Mindful Eating: A powerful tool to regain control of your eating habits

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In today’s fast paced, modern world, it is all too common to munch down a granola bar whilst driving, shovel some lunch into our mouths whilst taking a zoom meeting, or barely remember what we ate for dinner on the couch whilst watching our tv series. Food and the notion of eating it has been turned into an errand that there is often very little time allocated towards. In our driven, multitasking and technology oriented world, we find ourselves struggling to find the time to fit in a meal, overwhelmed with meal preparation and often tend to grab easy, convenient food choices that may not always be of the healthiest standard for our bodies. 

Diets are flooding in, dieting trends come and go and it is difficult to keep up with nutritional advice at times. Let me start off by saying, if you are overwhelmed, you are not alone. Also; mindful eating is not a diet. There are no rules (well maybe a few very small ones) and you can start right away if you’d like. It’s not about being perfect, always making the right choice or strictly limiting your meals to sit down dinners with candles and your best set of dishware. It is also not related to calorie counting, avoiding certain foods or restricting yourself in terms of calorie consumption, although you will have an easier time reducing your caloric intake if you are more mindful. 

Let me jump back and address the actual question you may be asking yourself. So what exactly is mindful eating? To put it simply, it is the art of consuming food whilst being fully aware, eating with all your attention, rather than on “autopilot” mode. I’m sure as you are reading this, you are able to recall the last meal you ate. Perhaps you are guilty of having engaged in autopilot mode eating, or mindless eating? If that is the case, don’t worry! This is the case for a large proportion of the world's population. The good news is that there is a quick fix! All that mindful eating requires is the will to engage with your mind and choose to be more aware. 

Before I list a few ways in which you can practice mindful eating (as soon as with your next meal), let me address the cycle of eating and how our body responds to food being put into it. Without overwhelming you with the entire digestive process, the simplest reminder you can give yourself is that it takes approximately 20 minutes for your body to realize that it is full and you no longer need to add any additional food to it. As you eat and drink, your stomach stretches to accommodate the extra substance. Stretch receptors in the stomach walls send signals to your brain, notifying it to taper off eating. Alongside this many hormones are at work, resulting in your brain receiving more impulses to stop eating rather than to continue. We know this feeling as “feeling full”. We are also well aware of the feeling of “feeling stuffed” when we have gone against our brains signals and have added unnecessary food to our stomachs, even after physiological responses telling us not to do this. Oftentimes this is as a result of eating too fast, not allowing our body to let us know that it is full in time. This is where mindful eating comes into play.

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Simple Steps to Practice Mindful Eating

  • Set aside time to eat. Just to eat! This doesn’t have to be a 45 minute time window each time and it could be as simple as a 5 minute break to sit and enjoy your mid work day snack. The point here is MAKE TIME. 
  • Practice being present. This takes some time and you will only get better each time around. What does this mean? Basically, get rid of any external distractions so that you can focus on the one thing in front of you; your food! Turn off the TV, take a seat and enjoy the moment.
  • Tune in with your senses. Allow yourself to eat slowly, savoring flavor, texture and smells. Chew thoroughly; not only will this assist your digestion, but as mentioned before, it gives your body that time to let you know when it is full. Try the simple hack of putting down your eating utensils between bites; you’ll be surprised how this simple trick can help you become more mindful and allow you to focus on what’s in your mouth rather than how you are going to master cutting the next piece off your steak. 
  • Learn to identify emotional hunger and physiological hunger and most importantly the difference between the two. What this comes down to is getting to know yourself and your body. Are you reaching for the fridge because you feel exceptionally stressed out right now or because your stomach is grumbling and you haven’t eaten all morning? This is a big learning curve for an individual and a personal journey I can only urge you to go on yourself. Once you can distinguish between the two, you are able to control your eating habits to a higher degree. 
  • Know your body and its signals. Each individual is different. Always remember this. Whilst your partner or friend may be serving up their third portion of dinner, you may want to stop and check in with your body before reaching for the serving spoon. Learn to recognize when your brain is telling you that you have had a sufficient amount of food to leave you feeling fulfilled. Remember that the process takes some time. Perhaps give it 5 minutes and reconsider your third plate of lasagna. Afterall, we all prefer feeling happily content after a meal rather than uncomfortably stuffed to the brim.
  • Lastly: Be kind to yourself. Practicing mindful eating is a process and whilst it may come easy some days, others may be more challenging. Any efforts to become more aware of your eating habits and practices are considered progress. Build up towards a more mindful practice surrounding any eating habits. 

Benefits of mindful eating

In general, the more mindful our eating becomes, the slower we consume our meals, as we take time to chew, enjoy and savor every bite; take note of the various textures we are putting into our mouths as well as take longer breaks in between bites. This often results in food being chewed more thoroughly, assisting digestion as well as extending the time spent on meals. In return, we are able to control our body and our mental urges to over consume. We are more conscious of what we eat, thus resulting in increased likelihood that we are able to consciously make healthy choices. We are also able to derive greater pleasure from food compared to mindless eating. Isn’t flavour one of the main reasons we enjoy food so much anyway? Why not enjoy it to the max then? Ontop of all that, mindful eating can help create a small bubble of peace or a quick escape from your busy day. You can use this time to bond with a partner or friend, or simply practice self love and enjoy your own company. 

In conclusion, there is no downside to giving mindful eating a try. For many individuals such as myself, giving it a quick try has evolved into a behavioural habit for life.