If you're anything like me, you probably eat on auto-pilot, scoffing down food because you're hungry, busy or comfort eating!
While we have been so focused on WHAT we are eating, we have rarely questioned HOW we are eating. Growing research is now showing that our attitudes and habits around how we eat (mindful eating) are just as important as what we’re putting in our mouths.
What’s so bad about MindLESS eating?
Digestive issues – there’s an actual physical thing going on when we are thinking about food and getting ready to eat. It’s the first stage of digestion (the Cephalic phase), and it’s really important! This is when your brain starts to anticipate food, smelling and seeing the food you’re about to eat sets off your digestive juices. It starts off the process of enzyme secretion and saliva production so that you’re ready to start digesting as soon as it enters your mouth.
This helps your digestion further down, giving it a head start by breaking down your food into more of a liquid, so the nutrients are much more easily absorbed in the small intestine. If it arrives in large chunks, it's more likely to cause damage to the gut lining or pass through undigested and the nutrients lost. No good eating that healthy diet if it's going straight through you!
Stress – by eating at your desk or while doing something else, your cortisol is likely to be raised (your stress hormone). Cortisol suppresses your production of saliva, enzymes and stomach acid – so when you’re eating like this, those big pieces of undigested food can sit in your stomach and ferment, contributing to acid reflux, bloating and gas. And more lost nutrients….. We know that if your stress response is switched on, then digestive issues are more likely. It’s not the body’s priority to digest your food when you’re being attacked by a lion (or more likely, sitting in a traffic jam)!
- It can lead to over-eating. When you’re mindlessly scoffing down your food, you are not aware of your body’s signals, so you can miss the messages that tell the brain you’re full. By being so distracted you can go on auto-pilot and eat way more than you need to.
And for women over 40, this is even more important. As we age, our nutrient needs go up and our ability to digest food and absorb nutrients can be reduced due to many factors such as stress, peri-menopause, gut microbial balance, underlying infections, toxins and food sensitivities.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is eating with intention and attention. As well as help with the physical digestive processes, it helps to increase awareness of your relationship with food, your hunger triggers and your emotional cues, so that you can break any destructive cycles and change your habits for good.
6 Surprising Benefits of Mindful Eating
- Less bloating and gas – by taking some time to eat, slowing down and chewing each mouthful, your system has more of a chance to properly digest your food, reducing the amount of undigested food in your gut left to ferment and bloat you out. It can also reduce other digestive issues such as constipation, diarrhoea, reflux and IBS like symptoms.
- Better nutrient absorption – which means more vital nutrients for our hormones, cells and organs to give us energy and do everything we need them to do!
- Weight loss – studies have shown that mindful eating helps you eat less and feel more full. Awareness of when you are actually physically hungry and knowing when to stop eating can help to eat the right amount of food for you and your metabolism.
- Increased appreciation of food – if you love your food, then you’ll love it even more if you take the time to appreciate it and enjoy it.
- A healthier relationship with food – if you tend to ‘emotional eat’ – when you’re upset, sad or bored for example, mindful eating can help to end that cycle. It helps to change your whole relationship to food and eating so that you are in control.
- Less stress! – when you take time and slow down your eating, you are naturally reducing your cortisol (stress hormone). This can help with weight loss, mood, anxiety, concentration, PMS, memory and sleep. It can also help your sex drive!
Here’s how to get started;
- Start gradually – If this is new to you, it’s best to start with one meal or snack each day and commit to mindful eating just once a day.
- Switch off – It’s really difficult to focus on eating if you’re doing other things. Turn off your phone and laptop. Set aside time for eating without any distractions. Enjoy some quiet time, just you and your food.
- Cook or prepare from scratch – if you’re ripping off the plastic and diving in, you are not giving yourself time for that crucial Cephalic Phase of digestion. By preparing food yourself (even if it’s throwing a salad together), you are not only eating more healthily but you are improving your digestion and absorption processes. Cooking can also be very relaxing, so you are helping to switch off your stress response.
- Start small – if you’re eating a snack, lay it out in small portions. If you’re eating a meal, use a knife and fork to cut in to bite sized chunks to eat one at a time.
- Wait before eating! Just take a few moments to look and appreciate what you’re about to eat; notice the colour, shape, texture. If you’re reaching into the fridge or cupboard for a snack, stop and ask yourself ‘am I really hungry?’.
- Notice each mouthful. As you put the food into your mouth, pay close attention to the sensations – taste, texture, crunch, how it feels as you chew. If you’re with others, ask them how it tastes, and share your observations.
- Chew! Make sure you chew your mouthful thoroughly – enough to make it into a liquid before swallowing. This will really help your digestion.
- Finish your mouthful before eating any more – how many times do we take the next mouthful while we’re still chewing the first one? Wait until you have swallowed before taking the next bite. It might help to put your cutlery down between mouthfuls.
- Stop eating when you feel 80% full – by eating mindfully, you should feel full a lot quicker. Try to stop eating when you start getting those satiety messages, not when the plate is empty!
- Be grateful – take a moment to feel some gratitude for the food you’ve just eaten. How often do we take for granted that we have such amazing food available to us?
I have found that the more we focus on the ‘how’, our appreciation of food increases and so does the quality of our choices. Not to mention our overall health!
Get started with this Mindful Eating meditation from Andrea Hosfeld.
Do let me know how you get on!
And if you need help with digestive issues, please get in touch to see how we can help.