Have you ever sat down on the couch after dinner and before you know it you have consumed an entire block of chocolate or packet of chips? You just gobbled it up with no thought to what you were putting in your mouth. Then the feeling of yuk sets in and maybe the feeling of guilt that you just ate an entire block of chocolate. Then you think, what could I have done differently so that you didn’t just eat so mindlessly.
What is mindful eating and how can it help me?
Mindful eating is a way of bringing awareness and energy to our eating habits and patterns. By practising mindfulness around eating you are becoming aware of your body and its sensations and bringing attention to your needs for healthy, moderate amounts of food and exercise. This means that we can recognise the thoughts and emotions – such as boredom or desire – which influence our eating. It can significantly decrease compulsive eating habits such as stress, emotional or binge eating, improve self-control which in the long run can assist weight loss and maintain weight loss. It gives us the ability to establish a healthy relationship to eating, exercise, body weight and body image.
It invites us to be present while preparing, cooking and eating, allowing us to truly savour our food without judgement, guilt, anxiety or inner dialogue. It is a kinder, more gentle approach to eating with a focus on how we think about food and not necessarily on changing the food we eat (though it can be). It encourages us to take our time over a meal, eating more slowly savouring the flavours, aromas and textures – reconnecting with our senses.
What happens when we are hungry?
When we experience hunger our blood sugar levels have become low, our stomach has secreted a hormone called ghrelin, which sends a signal to the “hunger centre” in our brain to stimulate appetite. However, when we are full, fat tissues secrete a hormone called leptin, which signals the brain that we’re full. The problem is that these signals can take a good 20 minutes before the messages are received. Therefore, much of our overeating happens during that 20-minute window.
You can implement mindful eating by following these simple steps:
- Have a plan about what you are going to eat so that when you are shopping you know what you need to buy. Plan to start with one meal per day or per week to practice mindful eating and build from there.
- Check in with yourself. Are you hungry, how hungry, are you thirsty, am I stressed or bored or busy?
- Sit down when you eat – without distraction or multi-tasking even if it is a snack.
- Serve enough onto your plate for a meal and put any leftovers into the fridge. This can reduce the chance of going back for seconds.
- Truly look and smell your food. Notice how it feels and tastes in your mouth. Chew every mouth full of food at least 20 times before swallowing.
- Pause and reflect. Halfway through your meal take a break to check in with your body to see how full you are feeling. Also, at this time ask yourself am I enjoying this food and am I chewing slowly and mindfully and is this portion too much or not enough?
- Eating mindfully can also involve thinking about the journey everything on your plate took to get there – from where and how it grew, to the person who prepared it. Thoughts of gratitude and appreciation can add even more enjoyment to the experience of eating.
- Be kind to yourself. Sometimes you might not have time or energy to approach your meal mindfully, that’s ok. Be forgiving of yourself.
- Practice. Like everything in life “practice makes perfect”. Keep practicing every day.
Mindful eating is about a long-term, sustainable approach to eating, without restrictions, where weight loss isn’t necessarily the goal but can be a happy by-product.
Nicole Haak is an experienced Melbourne Naturopath whose gentle approach and warm nature enable her to be an empathetic and supportive practitioner who takes a genuine interest in her clients’ needs. She has a deep passion for what she does. This is evident by her holistic approach to helping her patients find solutions to their health concerns and improve their quality of life.