The practice of mindful eating means listening to your ‘nutrition intuition’ in order to improve health and happiness. Our lives are busy, but we must remember to slow down to eat.
Studies point to possible benefits of eating mindfully such as better weight management, a healthy relationship with food and an overall positive psychological outlook.
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating means we are aware of our eating habits, the sensations we experience when we eat, and the thoughts and emotions that we have about the food. When we eat mindfully we focus less on what we are eating in favour of how we are eating it.
Ask yourself when you last felt hungry, then sat down to a meal without any distractions and really focused on the food. Did you observe the sensations while eating, and notice when you were full?
Why do we no longer eat mindfully?
Life is busy and people who would like to have a more positive relationship with food, eating and their body. Eating is just “another thing to do” in the day.
In our food-abundant, image and diet-obsessed culture, our focus is solely on what we are eating. Aside from those with a diet designed around legitimate health reasons, most people engage in restrictive eating by following fads, believing it keeps them in check from going overboard with food. We have lost trust in their own ability to make good decisions about the types, amounts and varieties of foods they’re eating. Many clients feel frustrated and perplexed that they have “forgotten how to eat”.
The habits of mindless eaters
1) Eating without realising you’re doing it.
2) Feeling guilty or ashamed after overeating.
3) Emotional eating – eating when bored, stressed or anxious.
4) Eating food without really tasting it.
5) Eating to avoid hunger.
6) Eating at set times of the day, not when hungry.
7) Eating food just because it’s there.
8) Overeating, bingeing and dieting.
How can we become mindful eaters?
Firstly importance of giving up food rules and diet plans (medical reasons excepted), which perpetuate the belief that we can’t trust ourselves to eat correctly.
Secondly,pay attention to how your body feels through the day. When does your hunger peak and trough? Some people like to keep an appetite awareness diary designed to create awareness of how appetite fluctuates through the day.
Thirdly, deliberately make time to sit down for meals and take time to really taste the food you’re eating. When it’s time to eat, get rid of all distractions, including television, electronic devices, walking, driving or even household chores.
Other important steps to consider.
Understanding what hunger feels like
This is vitally important in your body. Some cues could be a grumbling stomach, a dip in energy, or mood changes. Then eat slowly to the point of satisfaction. Once you understand your hunger cues, listen to them and eat when you are hungry, not according to the clock or a timetable. Recognise your non-hunger triggers for eating by being aware of your physical and emotional cues. It is important to break the cycle of eating because of boredom, stress, loneliness, thirst or other emotional or physical factors. Avoid eating just because food is available, or because others around you are eating. Tune into your belly and ask yourself if you are truly hungry in these moments. It’s so easy to see how mindless eating can quickly lead to overeating!
Enjoy your food. Take the time to appreciate how the food looks, how it smells, and how it tastes. Savour every bite.
Bottom line – we need to make time for eating!
Benefits of mindful eating
Here is a list documenting possible and reported benefits of Mindful Eating:
Being able to tune our appetite signals to recognise the stages of hunger through to fullness.
Ability to create ‘space’ between human experiences like cravings, thoughts, emotional experiences (such as stress) or body sensations (such as tightness in the chest) and turning to food.
Awareness of when you’re eating for non-hungry, or emotional reasons.
Make decisions around food that help us feel good, both during and after eating.
Having a more positive and calm experience around food and eating.
Connect with the actual sensory experiences of eating.
Enjoy our food!
Mindful eating invites us to interrupt autopilot and pay specific attention to the experience of eating and interacting with food. In this way, we can really connect with what our body needs. Let go of the idea that there is one right or perfect way of eating. There isn’t. Everyone is very different, and even our own needs change over time, or as a result of life events.
Learning the skills of mindful eating takes time and patience.
Mindful eating is NOT another diet. You’ll know if you’re approaching it like a diet if you’re saying things to yourself like “I can’t only eat when I’m hungry” or “I can’t eat past feeling satisfied”. It’s perfectly natural to find yourself at the point where you’re either too hungry or too full. It’s OK, your body will be OK and it’s important not to judge yourself or compensate by making elaborate diet plans for the next day. Eating is a natural, healthy, and pleasurable activity for satisfying hunger. At the same time, it’s important to develop positive and sustainable eating patterns, especially if it’s your goal to develop a happier, healthier relationship with food and your body.
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