What can you recall about your last meal? Do you remember its taste, texture and the various colours on your plate? What were your emotions like when you were eating? Were you stressed, hungry, happy?
If you can’t fully recall, don’t worry! A lot of us struggle with this exercise. Often, eating is carried out as an automated task at the subconscious level, at a quick pace and many times in front of our multiple screens and in an unengaged manner. This limits our ability to pay attention to our thoughts, feelings and consider how they impact our reactions towards the food we are eating … and vice versa.
Needless to say, this behaviour often leads to negative effects on our health. To begin with, our digestion is compromised and therefore the absorption of nutrients we get from our food is limited. Digestion does not unfold purely mechanically when we place food in our mouth. Instead, it is a sensorial mechanism. For instance, think how you salivate when you smell a good curry, see a good meal being prepared, hear a rich stew bubbling or grab a piece of fresh bread. These are cues that say to our body to get ready to absorb the nutrients from the food. Moreover, eating mindlessly impacts our satiety regulation as it takes us twenty minutes to even realise we are full and satisfied. When eating too quickly our body does not have time to realise that we consumed way more than needed. According to several studies, mindful eating helps in losing weight as it alters the eating patterns and regulates the satiety signs.
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating, as the name suggests, is related to mindfulness, which is a form of meditation. Mindful eating is nothing but paying full attention to the food that is being consumed, every moment, without any form of judgement. The focus is directed towards a person’s sensorial awareness of the food as well as their subjective, personal experience of what is in their plate. I am sure you already heard many health tips like avoiding engaging in any activity that takes your mind off the food, such as watching TV or scrolling your phone; seating to enjoy your meal and chewing thoroughly before swallowing. Needless to say, all these suggestions relate to paying attention, which is the sole idea of mindful eating. The primary difference when it comes to mindful eating is that it is not restricted to rules or guidelines; instead, it is all about individual experience. Every person does not go through the same experience with food. The emphasis must be on enjoying one’s own experiences while being completely present.
Do you frequently find yourself overeating to the point that your comfortable pants turn tight after meals?
With mindful eating, a natural approach to portion control becomes a possibility. Mindful eating is not related to calories, carbohydrates, fat, or protein portions size. Neither is the objective to lose weight. However, people who adopt this practice might end up losing weight. But the process largely focuses on becoming immersed in the process of eating and enjoying their food when they are completely present in the moment. Usually, diets lay down specific rules for eating – quantities, what can be eaten and what cannot – and the objective is also a clear cut – weight loss, improve blood glucose levels, etc. However, mindfulness is not goal-oriented or focus on limiting food intake. Instead, it is process-oriented. It is related to a person’s experience of that specific moment. It is up to the individual to choose what they eat and how much. However, when eaten mindfully, the quantities consumed decrease dramatically as they are fully engaged in savouring the food and appreciating the meal.
Mindful eating practice
Although it is simple to practice mindful eating, it may sound strange initially. How might ask, how to be mindful when you eat a rushed lunch at the desk in front of a computer screen or grab a sandwich on the go? Well, putting it very simply, you need to make choices and block time to enjoy your meals. So start by planning and making time for your meals. Many times we put pressure on ourselves and think that skipping meals is the best choice to manage the workload or save time but it can be actually counterproductive. There are so many things you can implement to ensure you block time to enjoy your meals. For instance, block about 30 minutes to one hour for lunch in your work diary and ensure that you make it clear you do not want to be disturbed at lunch. Wake up a little early to have breakfast at home. You can have lunch with colleagues or at a park so you also enjoy some sunshine.
Aim to adopt a mindful practice at every meal. You may find yourself skipping it on some days and that is completely okay. Don’t stop trying and it will eventually become a natural behaviour.
Here are some tactics to help you eat mindfully and turn it into an habit:
● Before you grab some random food, take a couple of minutes to introspect. What are you feeling? Are you bored, stressed, angry, sad, lonely or are you actually hungry and using food to regulate your emotions? This pause and reflection will give you an opportunity to chose and not purely react to foods.
● If you realise that your desire is not really related to hunger, shift your attention and actions to address your actual desires. Go for a walk if you need to relax, go out with friends, take a deep breathing, enjoy a hobby, there are so many things you can focus your attention instead.
● Eat intentionally and make sure you are only doing that. Say no to distractions such as television, working, or doing anything else that will stop you from paying attention to your food.
● Eat slowly and with each bite, try to chew about 30 times. Place your fork down after each bite and only pick it up after you finish chewing and swallowing the food in your mouth.
● Bring all your senses when you eat. Observe the diverse colours in your plate, smell the rich fragrances, explore each rich flavour, notice how different textures produce distinct sounds.
● Savour and enjoy every single bite. After every bite, connect with your body to understand what you are feeling. Did you eat enough? Do you need to eat some more? Make a decision based on your answers to these questions.
● Apart from focusing on what you are eating, think about all that went behind bringing your food onto your plate. Who participated in the growing and harvesting? What was the amount of sunlight and nutrients that were required to grow the food? Understanding the effort that went into bringing this food to your plate will increase your appreciation for it.
Eating mindfully is all about being aware of each bite you take. It starts right at your first thought related to your meal ends with the last bite you taste.
I hope you get this powerful, yet simple, practice off of your to-do-list and begin adopting it today, each bite at the time.