Mindful Eating – What It Can Do For You

mindful_eating

Your daily food routine – does is sound something like this?

Breakfast – Your alarm goes off and you hit the snooze button for five more minutes. You then jump out of bed, race to the shower and then head to the kitchen. While in the kitchen, you are scrolling through the social media on your phone, you make a coffee and then lean against the bench scoffing down your breakfast while trying to put your shoes on. Maybe that does not even happen; maybe you eat your breakfast while driving!

Lunch – It is 12pm, so it is lunch time. You head out to grab some take away and bring it back to your desk and eat your lunch in a noisy office, while either still working, or scrolling through phone again.

Afternoon – You have been working hard on a project so you decide to reward yourself with a little treat. You buy a block of chocolate and tell yourself you will only have one square. You eat the ‘one square’ and continue to work…5 minutes later you look down and the whole block is gone! Where did it go?

Dinner – Is made in a hurry, while scrolling through your phone or it’s a frozen meal popped in the oven, which is then eaten in front of the TV on the couch.

So what is wrong with the above scenario? Well, for starters you have not been very mindful about your eating and it has the potential to negatively impact your health, even if you are eating the right foods. It could even be preventing you from losing weight, reducing your ability to digest and absorb nutrients, messing with your natural hormone cues or putting additional stress on your body.

When we are out of tune with our body and eat on autopilot, we tend to NOT pay a lot of attention to what our body is telling us or associate particular symptoms with autopilot eating.

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Poor digestion

  • When you are in a rush or eat on autopilot, you do not allow your natural digestive processes to work how they should. Simple things like the act of preparation of food allows the sense of smell to be triggered which turns on your digestive juices in your stomach in preparation of receiving food. Chewing is also an essential part of the digestive process and most people don’t chew enough! It also helps to break down foods (through mechanical and chemical means) to assist proper digestion.

Emotional eating

  • When we are emotional or stressed we crave sugary foods. When we are on autopilot it is very easy to just consume what is in front of you, or reach for sugary foods to fill that emotional response. This does not deal with the emotional issue and it does not solve anything.
  • Hepworth notes that “Research suggests that disordered eating behaviours may arise when individuals have difficulty regulating their emotional experience (Baer, Fischer & Huss, 005). It has been demonstrated that individuals with eating problems frequently have difficulty tolerating negative effect and distress, and use food, whether in a restrictive or binge fashion, to regulate these internal experiences.”(2011)
  • Emotional eating is a very complex topic, but being mindful of food triggers is a great starting point. Why do you have that craving? What emotion are you feeling that you do not want to be dealing with? Start to ask yourself these questions.

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Overeating

  • How many times have you sat on the computer or been scrolling on your phone and had a packet of something next to you and before you know it – it is gone! Half the time people don’t even remember really what they have eaten in a day. When asked to complete a food diary, people are often surprised by how much food they have actually eaten when asked to pay attention to their food.
  • A systematic review by Robinson et al on the effect of food intake memory and mindfulness concluded that “Evidence indicates that attentive eating is likely to influence food intake, and incorporation of attentive-eating principles into interventions provides a novel approach to aid weight loss and maintenance without the need for conscious calorie counting” (2013)

Stress response

  • The stress response (fight or flight response) shuts down all ‘non-essential’ functioning in the body and prepares you to be able to ‘fight’ or runaway. This functioning also includes slowing down things like your digestion. Even something as innocent as scrolling through social media can actually cause a stress response in the body. When you are looking at all those fitness motivation pictures…how are they making you feel?

Poor food choices

  • When we are always in a rush, stressed or emotional – we sometimes don’t tend to make the best food choices. Why? Because we have not made eating and our food choices a number one priority.

Lack of recognition of hunger cues

  • When you are not eating mindfully, it is easy to just eat at ‘lunch time’ or out of boredom or because of stress. Are you actually aware of your natural hunger cues? Do you know what they feel like? When you are reaching for food, ask yourself if you are really hungry or is it something else (eg. Boredom, stress, emotions)?

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is simply the act of being fully self-aware of what is happening both inside and outside of your body. It is being aware of your thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, bodily cues, environment and surroundings – all without judgement. Simply notice, but do not pass judgement.

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is paying full attention to all of your experiences, emotions and feelings around eating and drinking. It starts from recognising hunger cues and includes everything from experiencing textures and flavours, appreciating your food and environment in which you are eating, acknowledging feelings of satisfaction and recognising feelings of fullness and much more.

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What are the benefits of mindful eating? 

Mindful eating is not going to ‘cure’ you of anything. It is simply another piece of the puzzle you should be aware of when considering your whole health. It is something that you can actively add to your daily health routine that will positively benefit your health.

  • Robison et al discussed in the review I mentioned above, that attentive or mindful eating could be a beneficial way of balancing weight and maintaining weight without the need for calorie counting.(2013)
  • Practising mindful eating is a great way to ‘check’ your thoughts and to be aware of any negative or critical, or self-esteem bashing thoughts you may have. It may surprise you how many of these thoughts crop up. Remember that a thought is just a thought, recognise it for what it is, have no judgement and move through it.
  • Mindful eating can assist with your digestive processes. When food is consumed on the run or when you are stressed it may not be digested properly. This may lead to gas, bloating or reflux.
  • Mindful eating can bring about more enjoyment of food! It reminds you to taste the food, enjoy the food and to really enjoy and savour the moment.

10 Tips to Practise Mindful Eating

  1. Make time to sit down to eat your meals. Don’t eat on the run or in the car. If you need to, maybe try setting your alarm clock for 15 minutes earlier in the morning, so you can sit down to eat your breakfast.
  2. Pay attention to the flavour and texture of your meals. Really start to notice if something is spicy, tangy or sweet. Enjoy the different sensations of eating rather than just hurrying the food down your mouth.
  3. Start to notice your thoughts and be mindful to your thinking. Remember, just notice them without judgement.
  4. Get out of the office for lunch. Try to make sure your meals are eaten in a nice, quiet and relaxing environment. Bonus points if you get to eat them outside in nature!
  5. Avoid distractions when eating and don’t multitask when eating. Put your mobile phone down and don’t eat while working. Enjoy this moment and do not be constantly distracted.
  6. Get to know your food. When you are cooking for yourself, you naturally start the digestive process by enticing yourself with all those lovely aromas while you are cooking.
  7. When you are tired, stressed or emotional – before you reach for the chocolate bar, stop and have a think about the ‘why’. Why are you reaching for that chocolate? What has just happened? Are there emotions coming up that you don’t want to deal with? Maybe take 5 minutes and practise come deep breaths or get outside for a moment.
  8. Get out of autopilot and start to really pay attention to your body. Are you really hungry, is it something else or are you just eating because of the time on the clock? On a scale of 1 -10 start to rate your hunger signals.
  9. Chew, chew and then chew some more.
  10. You don’t have to start doing all these steps at once J Just pick one or two and simply have a go!

References

Albers, S, 7 Mindful Eating Tips, 2007, National Eating Disorders Association, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

Hepworth, N, A Mindful Eating Group as an Adjunct to Individual Treatment for Eating Disorders: A Pilot Study, 2011, Eating Disorders, 19:6–16

Robinson, E, Aveyard, P, Daley, A, Jolly, K, Lewis, A, Lycett, D, Higgs, S, Eating attentively: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating, 2013, Am J Clin Nutr 2013;97;728-42

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Claire Yates

By Claire Yates

Claire Yates is a Nutritional Medicine Practitioner, holding a Bachelor of Health Science, who is passionate about paleo nutrition, health and having fun! She is the author of Optimal Health The Paleo Way and is a self-confessed lover of good food and good coffee.

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