Mindful eating uses a form of meditation called mindfulness, which helps you acknowledge and manage your emotions and physical sensations, and encourages us to gain awareness of our eating experiences. Using this approach will help you reach a state of full awareness to your experiences, cravings, and physical cues when eating.
There are a lot of benefits in eating mindfully. Studies have reported that eating mindfully can reduce physiological distress such as depression, anxiety, stress, and eating behaviours including binge eating, which can also result in maintaining a healthy weight.
So, what’s the difference between mindful eating and other popular diets? Rather than focusing on restricting calories, mindful eating provides a way to improve the body’s natural ability to control an eating behaviour. By encouraging awareness of emotional states and physiological signals, mindfulness meditation can increase the ability to recognise and respond to normal fullness cues. The following points explain why mindful eating can help improve your overall health and wellness.
Listen To Your Body, Not Emotions
The key to mindful eating is being able to differentiate between physical or emotional hunger. Sometimes emotions, like boredom or stress, can trigger hunger, therefore, it is important to identify what drives your eating. Emotional hunger is likely to come on suddenly whereas physical hunger will build over time. Emotional hunger will usually create a craving for a particular food whilst physical hunger is more likely to be satiated by any food.
It is entirely normal to eat in response to thoughts and feelings from time to time. However, it's important to approach emotional eating by recognising this without judgement, and satisfying your emotions to combat the potential dangers it can incur. By opting for satisfying and nutritious foods you can tend to the feeling whilst providing energy and nourishing your body, being mindful to enjoy the food slowly with all four senses.
All types of food can play a part in a healthy and varied diet. Instead of focusing on what foods are “good” or “bad”, focus on achieving a variety of different foods that provide satisfaction, enjoyment and nourishment.
It may also be helpful to practice recognising when you actually feel hungry by thinking about what it feels like in your body to feel hunger. When you eat, start with the amount of food you expect to make you feel comfortably full. Try to avoid periods of extreme hunger or extreme fullness. Remember you can always eat more if you still feel hungry.
Remember, to digest you must destress, so stepping back practicing a few rounds of 4-7-8 breathing technique may help turn off any stress response, and in turn curb an unnecessary craving.
Try not to eat while you’re on your laptop, phone, reading or watching TV so that you can relax and enjoy your food in the moment. For example, if you eat a square of chocolate, make sure you actually take time to recognise the aroma, flavour, taste and texture, and once swallowed, remember actually having it in your mouth - this will help you enjoy your eating experience, making it worth the calories!
Slow Down, Breathe + Chew
Mindful eating is about allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your inner wisdom.
Chew your food well and take time to pause while you’re eating by take a breathe, and putting your cutlery down between each mouthful. It may help you feel more relaxed and help you enjoy your eating experience. The digestive process actually starts in the mouth, and slowing this process down can allow your body to recognise when it is full. This is because when your stomach has taken enough food, a hormone called leptin is released from fat tissues which sends signals of fullness to the brain. It is thought, however, that it takes around 20 minutes for this process to occur.
Once you’ve mastered the art of mindful eating it will become more natural, hopefully improving your digestion and gut health, mind, energy levels, nutritional benefits, social experiences and overall health.