Eating mindfully - how can it help?
Written by Talia Cecchele
Eating is one of life's greatest pleasures and should be enjoyed. As children, we didn’t have to make many decisions when it came to food, we ate intuitively and asked for food if we were hungry and stopped eating when we were full. Then somewhere along the way we started to eat to time, when food was available, out of habit or as a way of managing emotions. We lost touch with the food we were eating.
As adults leading busy lives, so many of us eat in a rush, gulping down food and not even noticing where it all went, let alone the taste or texture of it. We eat while multi-tasking, replying to emails and scrolling through other people’s delicious meals. Sometimes we don’t even sit down to eat. Eating in this way adds stress to our body and can slow or shut down digestion which can lead to abdominal pain, bloating, wind and feelings of guilt (why did I eat that much?!).
Mindful eating is a skill born out of the Buddhist practice of mindfulness. When learnt, it can help people to improve their relationship with food, break free from diet culture and food rules, and begin to eat in a flexible way. Research has shown that mindful eating can also help control urges to over-eat or binge and assists with weight management and digestion. Mindful eating is not a diet. It is a way of eating.
So what does mindful eating mean?
Mindful eating consists of 5 key principles:
1. Having the freedom to eat all foods (judgement free)
2. Being present while eating including emotional, physical and mental connections.
3. Being in tune and honouring your hunger and fullness cues
4. Being aware of external or non-hungry cues (mindless eating) such as eating out of habit, boredom or stress
5. Having food-body congruence (choosing food that is pleasing for both your body and mind)
How do I eat mindfully? Eating mindfully is a skill, and therefore takes some practice. Here are my tips for mindful eating:
Tune in. Before reaching for food or preparing your meal ask yourself: “Am I hungry?” “Am I thirsty?” and “What do I really feel like?” Give yourself permission to eat food that you want and enjoy.
Sit down to eat. Don’t eat while you’re standing, walking around or driving. Put your food on a proper plate (your snacks too if you can) and sit at a table. This helps with being present at the meal.
Take 3 deep, slow breaths before eating. This switches your body from a stressed and distracted state (fight or flight mode) to being relaxed and focused (rest and digest mode). This will help to reduce food anxieties and aide digestion.
Eat slowly and chew your food. Not only does this help to savour the taste of the food but also with digestion (digestion begins in the mouth after all). Aim to chew each mouthful at least 10-20 times.
Put your cutlery down between mouthfuls. This gives you time to tune in to what you’re eating, enjoy the conversation (if eating with others) and the meal. The food isn’t going to run away.
Connect with how the food makes you feel. Are you starting to feel full? Do you feel energised? Or do you feel tired, bloated and uncomfortable? Eating mindfully will help you to learn what foods make you feel good.
There will be more food later. Don’t feel like you have to scrape everything off your plate. If you are hungry later you can go back for more or have a snack. Don’t be fearful of snacking. Everyone is unique and thrives off different ways of eating. If you need a little inspiration to get you started, try a mindful eating exercise. You can find so many online or if you need individualised advice and guidance book in with a registered Dietitian or Nutritionist.
Talia is a registered dietitian working in private practice and as an eating disorder specialist dietitian in London's leading private mental health hospital. As a freelance dietitian, Talia not only offers 1:1 consultations but can present at your workplace, create recipes or articles or host a cooking demonstration. To enquire please fill out a contact form.