Mindful eating: Importance, benefits & techniques to apply in your life

Mindful eating: Importance, benefits & techniques

Did you know?

All the raw materials and fuel (energy) required for these processes comes through our food.

Importance of food and nutrition

Food has a variety of functions in our bodies. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Providing our body with energy to effectively perform physical and mental activities. 
  • Repairing and maintaining our organs, systems, and genes to ensure our bodies are in their optimal working condition.
  • Supporting the gut microbiome and maintaining the symbiotic relationship between our body and the microbes inside our body.
  • Maintaining our body's immunity to combat the living (harmful microbes) and non-living (pollen, particulate matter, etc.) stressors, and anything in between (viruses).

Choosing the right foods can have an impact on our physical, mental, and emotional health and our overall well-being.

  • Food determines our overall mood, energy levels, focus levels, etc. 
  • Improving our relationship with food can help us avoid issues like obesity, allergic reactions, and chronic diseases.

Nutrition is the process of providing our body with all the essential elements, compounds, and other chemical substances (in the form of food) that are required for our growth, development, and maintenance. 

Ensuring proper nutrition:

  • Helps us prevent chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiac issues, among other problems.
  • Helps us stay in a good mood and combat stress effectively.
  • Helps us achieve our optimal genetic potential through continuous maintenance and repair of genes.

We would also need to supplement the right nutrition, with the right amount of mindfulness to make the best use of the nutrients we are supplying to our bodies.

For example, when we are under a lot of stress (and are not mindful of it), the resultant high cortisol levels might hamper our digestion capacity, which may lead to the nutrients not being absorbed properly by our bodies.

What is Mindfulness?

Human beings have the innate ability to be aware of the state we are in. In simpler terms, we can experience all the sensations and feelings our body is going through. 

For example, when our body runs out of fuel, we feel hungry. 

When we experience unbearable sensations (like accidentally touching a hot pan), we feel pain. 

However, with a mindfulness approach, the same awareness is higher than normal, and we tend to observe all the subtle sensations and feelings our bodies go through, without any judgment. 

mindfulness meaning What is mindfulness?

The concept of mindfulness has been around for millennia as a common practice in various religions. However, the term rose to its fame when Jon Kabat-Zinn developed a mindfulness-based stress reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Deliberate practice of mindfulness can improve our ability to recognize and manage physical sensations and emotions. Mindfulness can be practiced in any aspect of life to improve the overall quality of life. 

Common practices to improve our mindfulness include

  • Body scan meditation - A form of meditation where we consciously observe sensations in our body without any judgment.
  • Consciously observing our breathing for a few minutes
  • Practicing yoga asanas
  • Mindful eating etc.

 

You may also like: Tips to stay merry and have a healthy diet

What is Mindful Eating?

Imagine your favourite food.

Imagine taking the first bite of it.

How does it taste? What flavour do you get? How does it feel in the mouth? 

Are you able to visualize all these sensations? If yes, you have experienced mindful eating! 

In other words, mindful eating is simply acknowledging all the sensations we feel as we put any food or drink into our bodies. Our bodies send subtle signals about the feeling of taste, excitement, fullness, and other sensations in response to the food we consume. When eating mindfully we can be in tune with these signals and make use of them for our well-being. 

Why is Mindful Eating important?

We live in a society with an abundance of food choices, innumerable distractions, and the shortest attention spans. In this world of continuous stimuli, eating has become a mindless act and we are not in synchrony with the signals of our bodies. If the act of mindful eating is not implemented, overeating can become a chronic problem that may potentially turn into a lifestyle epidemic.  

On the other hand, mindful eating enhances our overall experience of food. We tend to enjoy and appreciate our food a lot more when eating mindfully, and staying healthy becomes a natural outcome of the process. 

Mindful eating is already a conventional recommendation in the treatment of

  • Chronic health issues like diabetes & hypertension,
  • Mental health issues like anxiety & depression, and
  • Various eating disorders & food-related behaviours.

Mindful eating techniques that you can implement in your life

Mindful eating is a simple practice of enjoying our eating experience and engaging all our senses in the process. However, we are surrounded by a world of too many distractions in this day and age. Our urbanscapes are filled with bright, attention-grabbing visuals, overpowering smells, and deafening sounds.

After counselling more than 100 clients on mindful eating, I have realised that, irrespective of where we live, most of us struggle with similar distractions.

So, to help beginners and experienced people alike, here are our 5 simple techniques for mindful eating.

  • Eat in a naturally lit room, if and when possible - Healthy food comes in all colours and looks delicious in natural light. This is an easy way to engage our visual senses and make the food naturally “look good”.
  • Take a 2-minute gap before you break for a meal - Taking a moment can help you reflect on how hungry you are, what you will be eating for the day, and acknowledge and appreciate the food you will be eating for the meal. Many religions follow this practice in the form of a small prayer at the dining table, right before each meal.
  • Eat slowly. Do not rush through your meals - Eating the food slowly can help us appreciate the tastes and smells of the food better. It is easy to eat slowly if we are not ravenously hungry. Therefore, waiting until normal hunger turns into a craving can be counterintuitive to the mindfulness approach.
  • Do not take a new bite before you finish chewing the previous one - The texture and mouth-feel of food can contribute a lot to the taste experience. Can you remember the sound you hear from your mouth as you bite into a crunchy potato chip? That’s exactly what we are talking about here. Also, 70% of the food smells you perceive are retronasal (as you bite into the food, the food's odour travels from the mouth into the nose).
  • Do not watch TV or listen to music while eating - Engaging our senses elsewhere can be the biggest distraction when it comes to mindful eating. The most interesting thing in front of you should be your food.

mindful eating A handy list of tips on Mindful Eating

Benefits of Mindful eating

Weight loss:

  • As part of mindful eating, we take time to chew the food and make sure we completely swallow one mouthful of food before taking another bite. Since we will pay attention to all our senses, it is easy to understand when we are exactly full and hence to stop eating when we are not hungry anymore.
  • Slow eating and complete chewing of food enable better interaction with saliva, hence better digestion and absorption of nutrients into our system. Also, the longer we chew, the more work it is for our teeth and jaw muscles, which can act as a natural feedback mechanism to stop eating after consuming adequate food. All these things can naturally result in a healthy weight loss.

Behavioural benefits:

Mindful eating can help us against behaviours like binge eating, eating because of cues from the environment, emotional eating, etc.

  • Binge eating - Our bodies naturally take some time to send fullness signals to our brain, after eating adequate food. When we are eating mindlessly and quickly, we tend to eat more than adequate food, before we realize it.
  • Eating because of environmental cues - Ever passed through a street corner and suddenly started craving a samosa? Feels familiar? Environmental cues can be extremely tempting when we are not mindful of our food.
  • Emotional eating - Sometimes, we respond to certain emotions through eating. This could be happiness for some people and stress for others.

With regular practice of mindful eating, we acquire skills required to deal with temptations and impulses leading to such behavioural problems.

Techniques to help improve the mindful approach

  • Take a few deep breaths before you start to eat any meal. This could be an easy and deliberate way to bring your attention to focus on eating mindfully.
  • Ask yourself the following questions before any meal:1. Why am I eating this meal? How hungry am I?2. What is my current emotional state?These questions can help you reflect on the existing state of mind and tune into your hunger.

  • Do not wait until you are ravenous. Mindful, slow eating becomes extremely difficult when your hunger levels are high. That is also when you tend to overeat. When hungry, if you are unable to eat for some reason, at least drink enough water to temporarily fill your stomach.
  • Carry the mindfulness approach while you shop for your groceries. To plan healthy meals throughout the week, it is important to shop for groceries mindfully. Think about how various foods make you feel. Experiment with different combinations of foods during this process.
  • Take part in the cooking process. Cooking food can help us tune into various senses even before the food comes onto our plates. We can touch and smell the vegetables, listen to the sounds when cutting fruits, and so on. These can give you a unique appreciation of the food and helps you with the mindful eating process overall.

In Closing

With the unprecedented expansion of chaos and distractions around us, it is high time to implement mindful eating as a habit. At a time when lifestyle diseases are more commonplace than ever, mindfulness can be the guiding light for the next generation of people to stay healthy.

Deliberate practices such as yoga, mindful walking sessions, body scan meditation, and deep breathing can be the best ways to supplement mindful eating. In addition, being thankful and appreciative about the process of bringing the food from the farm to the plate can nurture a new generation of global citizens.

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