Mindfulness, a Buddhist concept that involves being fully aware and living in the moment, has proven successful for people dealing with conditions like stress, high blood pressure and chronic gastrointestinal issues. And now, a growing body of research suggests that a mindfulness approach to eating in a slower, more thoughtful way can assist in weight management.
Coined “mindful eating,” some have even found that this approach helps steer them away from process foods and other unhealthy choices.
Elements of mindful eating
- Appreciating all of the elements of the food you are eating–the colors, smells, flavors, and textures of your food
- Acknowledging responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment
- Allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nourishing opportunities that can be found in food selection and preparation
- Not rushing through eating your meal but chewing slowly
- Avoiding distractions, like TV, reading, or browsing the internet, while eating
- Learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food
- Becoming aware of physical hunger and fullness cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating
This seems so easy…and it is. But like all new things, the first step is the hardest. Many people cling to “rules of dieting” that they have been holding onto for so long. This, unfortunately, leads to a setup for failure and has been compared to walking a tightrope. Once one falls off of the “diet tightrope,” it can lead to frustration and a “just don’t care” attitude. However, incorporating the principles of mindful eating is more like a wide path that has no “rules,” but relies upon listening to your body’s cues for satisfaction and nourishment.
The mind-gut connection
Digestion is actually a very complex process that involves a series of hormonal signals between the gut and the nervous system. It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to be clued in to our fullness. If someone eats too quickly, these fullness signals may occur only after overeating instead of putting a stop to it. On the other hand, it also is believed that eating while we are distracted by certain activities like driving may slow down or stop digestion similar to how the “fight or flight” response does. If we are not digesting well in general, we may be missing out on the full nutritional value of some of the food we are eating.
5 simple mindful eating techniques
- Give up the “rules” – By setting strict rules, you walk a tightrope between “being good” and a “just don’t care” attitude. This also leads to certain foods being a “forbidden fruit” that are all the more tempting.
- Feed yourself predictably – Try to avoid patterns like skipping lunch so you can eat more at the dinner party. This can lead to overeating once dinner is served.
- Eat slowly and savor – Don’t be in a rush to eat. Chew slowly and enjoy the different flavors. Think about the process in preparing the meal. Enjoy your company. Don’t continue eating something that you do fully enjoy.
- Eat well – Be thoughtful in your food choices. Listen to your body’s cues as to when you are full.
- Experiment – Try different foods and your response. Stay present in the experience. Ask yourself “am I still hungry?” before taking seconds.
Mindful eating takes practice, but over time it will help you develop a health relationship with food. Give it a try. You may find your appetite is actually a good guide to overall nutrition and well-being.