Mindful Eating – Better Health — Part I

In recent years I have been more attention to becoming quieter, more still, and more at peace. I have not cultivated the art of meditation to a great degree, although I have had plenty of exposure to it in regular yoga practice.

However, as I delve deeper and deeper into food and health issues, I have become more interested in, and a neophyte practitioner of mindful eating.

Mindfulness, in general, stems from meditation, which is basically the practice of stillness, of observance, of being fully alive and present in the moment. Mindfulness attempts to apply a meditative, deeply present and focused state to various activities, helping you to recognize and cope with emotional and physical sensations.

What is Mindful Eating?

Mindful eating is about using concentration and intentionality to reach a state of full attention to all your experiences, cravings, and physical and emotional cues when eating.

At its most fundamental level, mindful eating involves

  • Eating slowly and without distraction ( tv, book, phone, cleaning the kitchen, etc.)
  • Listening to physical hunger cues and eating only until you’re full.
  • Distinguishing between actual hunger and non-hunger triggers for eating (boredom, anger, fatigue, fear, etc.).
  • Engaging your senses by noticing the colors, smells, sounds, textures, and tastes of your food.
  • Learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food.
  • Eating to maintain overall health and well-being.
  • Noticing and being honest about the effects food has on your feelings and body shape.
  • Appreciating your food.

Why Should I Try Mindful Eating?

In this country particularly, we often eat mindlessly. We stuff food into our mouths while working on the computer, watching TV, or when we’re on the run. The pleasure of eating lies in slowing down and fully experiencing all of the elements of the food.

When eating becomes a mindless, distracted act, the result is often eating so fast that our brain, which takes about 20 minutes to realize that we’ve had enough food for the time, is a too-little, too-late signal, as we have already hastily inhaled much more than was wanted or needed by our body. This is very common in binge eating, which, unfortunately, happens at more and more dinner tables these days.

Eating mindfully restores your attention, slows you down, so that eating is an intentional act rather than an automatic one. Also, it helps you to recognize triggers that make you want to eat, even though you’re not necessarily hungry.

To the point, a recent health coaching client of mine who wanted to lose weight worked on slowing down and appreciating each bite of her food. What she realized, among other things, was that she was snacking late into the night, rather than going to bed when she was tired.  We have all sorts of reasons for eating that do not have anything to do with hunger or the need for nourishment. Slowing down our eating can help us to discover some of those reasons, and then make more life and health-giving choices. Knowing your triggers can help to create space between them and the response. This gives you the time and freedom to actually choose your response, rather than eat more food mindlessly.

What is the Connection between Mindful Eating and Health?

  • Mindful eating can help with weight loss in at least two ways. First, when you take into your body just what you need for energy and body functioning, you take a good load off your digestive system. Food gets digested more efficiently, and then put to work in your body to do whatever its job is to do. Second, mindful eating is likely to cut down on the amount of food that you eat and the number of times you eat mindlessly. Fewer unneeded calories will not be becoming unwanted pounds.
  • Mindful eating can be helpful in preventing binge eating. It can both reduce the frequency of binges, as well as the severity of each binge eating episode.
  • Mindful eating methods have been shown to reduce emotional eating, (eating in response to certain emotions), and eating in response to environmental food-related cues, such as the sight or smell of food.
  • Mindful eating enhances the pleasure of eating. It satisfies us on many levels, helping us to maintain a calm, relaxed demeanor, able to engage more efficiently and effectively with the people, events, and circumstances of our lives.

How Do I Begin Mindful Eating?

Certainly, some experience with meditation and/or mindfulness is helpful for beginners. Some people find it helpful to attend a seminar, online course or workshop, or to read a book on the subject.

However, there are many simple ways to get started, and some of them can have powerful benefits on their own. Try any or all of these simple practices.

  • Eat more slowly and don’t rush your meals.
  • Chew thoroughly. (I’ll have more on this subject in my next newsletter/blog)
  • Eliminate distractions by turning off the TV and putting your phone in another room.
  • Eat in silence.
  • Focus on how the food makes you feel, inside and out.
  • Stop eating when you’re full
  • Ask yourself why you are eating. Are you actually hungry? Is it healthy?

Beginners may want to pick one meal per day to focus on these ideas. Ease of and desire for mindful eating will improve with practice and time.

For now, the bottom line is this – either you’re physically hungry or there’s another trigger for eating.

The core principles of mindful eating include

  • Being aware of the nourishment available through the process of food preparation and consumption
  • Choosing enjoyable and nutritious foods
  • Acknowledging food preferences nonjudgmentally
  • Recognizing and honoring physical and satiety cues
  • Using wisdom to guide eating decisions.

Mindful eating is a big topic.  Watch for the next newsletter for a slightly more in-depth look at it. Mindful eating plays a much bigger part in our overall health than we usually consider.

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