The Importance of Mindful Eating
Improving someone’s nutrition is much more than establishing what to eat and when to eat it, it is also important to understand how to eat.
How to eat goes far beyond the physical action of eating, such as chewing and the rate at which we eat. It reaches out to more psychological factors such as what we are thinking about before, during and after eating, and what environment we choose to eat in.
Although it might seem strange these are crucial factors in establishing a healthy long-term approach to eating. We find ourselves encouraged to believe that food is of lesser importance than other areas of our lives, and thus it drops down on our priority lists. We then choose to eat the more convenient options or even start to skip meals because we are “just to busy to eat”.
Our relationship with food can be both conscious and unconscious
- Consciously selecting food
- Unconsciously digesting, absorbing foods and excreting waste products
External forces can disturb our unconscious responses to the food we eat and our conscious food choices.
Imagine you were in danger and you needed to find safety, either through running away or fighting. The body will preferentially support the systems involved in creating that safety and down-regulate systems that are of lesser importance at that moment in time.
Digestion becomes of a minor significance when the body is under stress. Not only will it affect your ability to digest and absorb your food, through inhibition of the cephalic response, it can also effect the food decisions you make, by driving you towards immediate energy sources, such as sugars and stimulants.
Whilst that might seem an extreme example to you, most of us now live in a state of chronic stress, where our body finds it self, at some level within this fight or flight response for multiple hours throughout the day.
Steps to Mindful Eating
A practice I get a number of my clients to do is take a few minutes to practice diaphragmatic breathing and focus on to what they are about to eat.
Something that is less common these days is that of giving thanks or showing gratitude towards the food you are about to consume. This is something that developed over thousands of years and is still a big part of certain cultures.
Also before you are about to consume that meal, ask yourself. Does this meal support my health goals? Is it going to supply sustenance and help support my bodies need for nutrients to function optimally?
Create a mindful eating environment
Being in the moment is an important part of mindful eating. We have many distractions these days from work demands, TV, ipads, phones etc. Rarely do people sit down these days and focus on what they are eating.
Thus it is important to provide an environment where you are able to focus on what you are about to eat without distraction.
Turn the TV off, move away from your workstation, find a relaxing atmosphere.
Experience your food
Food is to be enjoyed. Food has numerous flavours, textures, smells, that we forget exist.
Pay attention to the smell, taste and texture of the food you are consuming. Take note of what you particularly enjoyed about your meal.
Drink your food and chew your water
This ancient Indian proverb outlines the importance of taking your time to chew your food thoroughly and to not gulp your drink down in one.
Our time-precious lifestyles mean that we now speed eat at a rate that has never been seen before.
Both our mind and our mouth are crucial starting points for optimising digestion. Our mind triggers the cephalic response to support enzyme, hormone and acid secretions in our digestive tract, and our mouth helps expose some of those enzymes to the food and also plays a crucial role in increasing the surface area of the food to allow for better digestion further down the intestinal tract.
Eat guilt free
Many people I see these days have such poor relationships with food and guilt dominates their mind when eating.
Food should not be seen as the enemy. All food has its place, but instead we should be conscious about the food choices we make and understand whether those foods are supporting your goals.
If you feel a lot of guilt around eating I highly recommend Dr Susan Albers books and website, in which she has some great information and tools that are very handy. Dr Albers is a psychologist who specialises in mindful eating practices and enhancing relationships with food. http://eatingmindfully.com/mindful-eating-tools/