A Beginner's Guide to Mindful Eating
What are the latest diets and food trends? Are we eating paleo, vegan, or Mediterranean? Are we gluten-free, sugar-free, low-carb or high fat? While some of these dietary patterns may be healthy, many people are simply tired of following any regimented diet.
Enter mindful eating.
Mindful eating, rather than focusing just on what we eat, also looks at how we eat it. It is about being curious about tastes, smells and textures. It is about paying attention to your food, and to your body’s reaction to that food.
Think, for a moment, about our eating culture in North America. We drink giant coffees and quick meals from a drive through so that we never have to leave our cars. We don’t give ourselves the opportunity to sit down with our food, to eat it without distraction.
We prioritize cost and convenience, rather than quality, nutrition, and the environment in which we eat.
Let’s compare this to France, so well-known for the “French Paradox” – the idea that the French can eat food that is high in fat, drink red wine, and somehow enjoy a longer and more disease-free life than their North American counterparts.
Our scientific minds, looking for a single answer, have us looking at a single component of this diet. It must be the red wine, or even better, the resveratrol within the red wine.
What if, instead, it had at least as much to do with their long lunch breaks, meals eaten at a table with family, friends, and co-workers? What if it had to do with that very French concept of savouring each bite?
This idea is also now being backed by research. Studies have found that teaching mindful eating habits can help improve overall eating behaviours, and also support healthy weight loss and blood sugar levels.
People who eat mindfully are more able to listen to their body’s hunger and satiety cues. There is also a focus on increased self-compassion, and less of the guilt and shame which so often cloud our thoughts around food and eating.
Without moving to France, here are 3 simple ways to incorporate more mindfulness into your eating habits.
Task #1 - Pay attention to your food.
Try and implement just one meal each day where you sit down and really pay attention to your food.
Pay attention to the smell and colour when you are preparing it. Think about it how delicious it will taste. Get your mouth watering before you sit down to your meal.
This reaction- which is called the Cephalic Phase- is a key part of our digestive processes. The thought, sight, and smell of food triggers appetite, as well as oral and gastric secretions, which prepares our stomach for the arrival of food.
When we allow this reaction to take place we digest our food better, feel more satisfied, and have fewer digestive problems. Win!
Task #2- Listen to your body.
Ask yourself this simple question before you start to eat: Am I hungry? And then, without judging yourself, decide whether or not you want to eat.
Half way through your meal, put your fork down and take a deep breath. Ask yourself if you are still hungry. Many of us have been taught to “clean our plates” regardless of whether we are still hungry or not. The goal is to eat until you are satisfied, not until you are bursting.
Task #3- Breathe
Taking a deep breath (better yet- 5-10!) sends a signal to your body that you are safe, and takes your body out of “fight or flight”, and back into “rest and digest” mode. When we eat on the run or when we are stressed, blood is diverted away from our digestive system and into our muscles so that we can react quickly to whatever is threatening us. It puts digestion on the back burner and can cause bloating, indigestion, and erratic blood sugar levels.
Try taking 5 deep belly breaths before you begin to eat. Your digestion and your stress levels will thank you!
Eating mindfully is a practice - not an all or nothing game. Start by implementing one of these practices 1 x daily, until it becomes a habit. Forget? Who cares! Just do it next time. The nice thing about this stuff is that we usually have 3-5 opportunities a day to try again.
In my online meal program, Taste Success, we encourage you to eat mindfully. It is not just about what you put in your mouth, but how you do it. Your attitude and beliefs are just as important.
If it is time for you to make a shift into eating better - both what you eat and how you eat it, then sign up today.
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