How much do you consider the moment of eating – the actual experience as opposed to the outcome? Taking time to be mindful of the process, and not focusing on restricting calories, will improve your awareness of the experience, improve your relationship with food and may help you lose weight. In this article, we will explore the thinking behind mindful eating.
Where does mindful eating come from?
The concept of mindfulness is defined as the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us, according to mindful.org.
It is an ancient eastern and Buddhist philosophy that dates back 2,500 years, made popular in the western world by American professor, Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of the Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine. “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally,” says Kabat-Zinn.
The idea of mindful eating evolved from Kabat-Zinn’s studies, employing the same meditative techniques that have come from the ancient practice of Buddhist monks.
How does mindful eating work?
The concept encourages a focus on the preparation and consumption of your food, in a distraction-free environment. By taking time to think about the food, you should become more aware of the signals your body sends to your brain that indicate satisfaction and fullness, which in turn can help you improve your general health and well-being.
A 2018 study found that when participants were taught mindful eating skills, they ate with greater awareness, less distraction, and greater cognitive restraint, all things that reduced the risk of overeating.
For many of us, it is ‘mindless’ eating that instigates or reinforces the unhealthiest of our eating habits. By consistently practicing awareness when we eat, we can take back control of our own eating habits and enforce positive change.
Similarly, mindful eating is intended to put you back in touch with the actual needs of your body. This is one of the first steps to becoming a more mindful eater, as a recent Himalayan Times article states, ‘The very first move is distinguishing between true hunger and non-hunger triggers for eating.’
4 tips for mindful eating
1: Evaluate how hungry you are
A more mindful approach to eating begins before the act of preparing or eating a meal. Being aware of your hunger cues will allow you to evaluate the level of hunger you are actually feeling, and you’ll begin to notice the difference between true hunger and cravings.
A recent University of San Diego study reported that, ‘People who are highly responsive to food lost more weight and, importantly, were more successful at keeping the pounds off using a new alternative weight-loss intervention that targets improving a person’s response to internal hunger cues and their ability to resist food’.
2: Always pay attention to your food
Attentiveness when eating is paramount to being more mindful in your approach to food. Taking in how your food looks, or smells, is an easy way to stimulate your digestive system.
Even in the process of selecting your food in a supermarket or restaurant, more attention will lead to decisions based on what your body needs as opposed to external influences, or emotions.
3: Eliminate distractions
Being distracted from the act of eating can fuel a negative relationship with food, or lead to overeating or emotional eating. We have become masters of multi-tasking, but when this is applied to food, we often lose track of how much we are consuming, or the reasons for which we are eating.
Dr Srikanth K P, a consultant of paediatric gastroenterology for Manipal Hospitals, listed overconsumption, digestive harm, and long-term metabolic consequences as some of the issues that can arise from not concentrating when eating.
4: Slow down, chew more!
By making a conscious effort to chew your food more, not only will you be able to digest it more easily, you will also allow your brain more time to send signals that indicate satiety, or satisfaction.
A slower rate of eating can help you to gain a better understanding of your body’s hunger cues, and allow you to be more mindful of your relationship with food.
The magic number for chewing is often touted as 32, a chew rate proposed by a self-proclaimed diet expert from the 1800s named Horace Fletcher.
Whether there really is a magic number or not is up for debate, however it has been proven that properly chewing your food has positive implications on your digestive health, and is intrinsic to a more mindful approach to eating.
Whilst a lot of the research around mindful eating is focused on weight loss, the simple steps listed above can help you to improve your relationship with food – making a distinction between physical and emotional hunger, which is such a big factor in your overall health and well-being.