You’ve probably heard the term of the term ‘mindful eating’, but what does it actually mean?
The word ‘mindful’ itself means “to be conscious or aware of something.” Of course, we’re aware that we’re eating when we’re eating, but what really differentiates mindful eating is when we are truly conscious and present for the experience.
Mindful eating is maintaining an in-the-moment awareness of the food and drink you put into your body. It involves observing how the food makes you feel and the signals your body sends about taste, satisfaction, and fullness. Mindful eating requires you to simply acknowledge and accept rather than judge the feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations you observe. It can extend to the process of buying, preparing, and serving your food as well as consuming it.
It’s the opposite of scarfing down a to-go breakfast on your drive to work, or accidentally inhaling a bowl of popcorn before the movie even starts. Bringing consciousness awareness to your eating can help you get the most out of your meals AND properly nourish and support your body systems.
Here’s how to start eating mindfully:
1. Relax when you are eating
A few deep breaths before a meal may seem pointless, but it can help with the digestion of food and the absorption of nutrients. Deep breathing helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s rest and digest functions. Being in a relaxed state while eating allows the production of adequate digestive enzymes needed to properly break down our food.
If we experience prolonged exposure to stress, our body enters a state of ‘fight or flight’ which results in the production of stomach acid and digestive enzymes to be put on hold to deal with the perceived threat. This is useful if you’re actually in danger, but if you’re just operating with high stress levels, you’ll want to shift into ‘rest and digest’ mode to achieve optimal digestion.
Try eating away from distractions like your phone or tv!
2. Chew your food thoroughly
Chewing quickly and not thoroughly enough results in swallowing larger than ideal pieces of food, which not only gives the digestive enzymes in your saliva less of a chance to start breaking down the food, but it can make the whole digestive process from there difficult and uncomfortable. Chewing longer allows your food to get more exposure to your saliva, making the digestive process a lot smoother.
A good rule of thumb is to chew 10-20 times before swallowing. This may feel quite uncomfortable the first few times you try it, but your gut will thank you for it!
3. Appreciate your food
Try pausing for a minute or two before you begin eating to contemplate everything and everyone it took to bring the meal to your table. Silently express your gratitude for the opportunity to enjoy delicious food and the people you’re enjoying it with.
When we stop to appreciate everything that goes into our meal and consider where our food comes from, it becomes easy to experience gratitude for everything involved in the process of creating our food [from the soil it is grown in and the farmers who harvest to the grocery store clerks and whoever prepared the meal that sits in front of us].
With just a little more mindfulness like this, we may begin to make wiser choices about sustainability and health in our food.
4. Don’t eat too quickly
Having to rush through a meal is never fun but also, it’s not good for your digestion. Eating too fast can result in swallowing a lot of air which can lead to uncomfortable digestive symptoms such as gas and bloating.
Eating too fast dulls your body’s natural satiety signals and you risk falling out of touch with your natural hunger and fullness signals, which can lead to overeating.
Slowing down and taking your time while eating will help your body absorb the nutrients from the food!
Tip: Try putting down your utensil between bites.
5. Listen to your body’s hunger cues
We often listen first to our minds, but like many mindfulness practices, we might have better outcomes when we listen to our bodies first. Rather than just eating when we receive emotional signals from the brain [stress, sadness, frustration, loneliness or even just boredom], we can listen to our bodies.
Is your stomach growling, energy low, or feeling a little lightheaded? Too often, we eat when our mind tells us to, rather than our bodies. True mindful eating is listening deeply to our body’s signals for hunger.
Benefits of Mindful Eating:
By paying closer attention to how you feel as you eat [the texture & tastes of each bite, your body’s hunger and fullness signals, how different foods affect your energy and mood] you can learn to enjoy both your food and the experience of eating. Being mindful of the food you eat can promote better digestion, keep you feeling full by eating less, help you appreciate the food you’re eating & where it comes from, and encourage healthier choices regarding what you eat. Additionally, and most importantly, it can help you free yourself from unhealthy habits/relationships around food and eating!