Mindful Eating

(By Mark Beattie – 3rd year Nutritional Sciences student at MMU)

Over the past decade or so, you may or may not have become aware of a concept known as ‘mindfulness’. Mindfulness is not a new idea, in fact, it has been practised in ancient Buddhist culture for thousands of years. With the prevalence of anxiety and depression globally, many doctors and therapists have come to appreciate the positive role that it can play in helping to treat these conditions. The practice of mindfulness, which can involve meditation, has been shown to slow down the rate of breathing, enable us to focus on the here-and-now, and become more in tune with our emotions and senses. Mindful eating is a kind of mindfulness which can help us to have greater control over our eating habits.

Here are some tips on how to adopt key mindful eating habits.

Know when to eat, know when to stop

It is important for us to pay attention to physical signals that tell us when we are hungry and when we are full. It takes 20 minutes for the receptors in our stomach to send a message to our brains that we have had enough to eat. Chewing food more slowly can help us to stop overeating which may prevent us from becoming overweight or obese. Old-fashioned practices that some of our parents and grandparents taught us, like sitting down to eat, chewing food properly (25 seconds per bite to be exact), and putting your knife and fork down between mouthfuls are actually mindful eating techniques too. This slowing down of eating has been shown to increase feelings of positivity and enjoyment of food. These practices may also help to control incidences of binge eating and disordered eating.

Remove distractions at the table

The act of eating in the modern world is often something mindless that we do alongside scrolling the internet or watching our favourite TV program. Try removing these distractions and sit looking at your food for a time. Focus on the colours and smells that you are experiencing. The salivary glands in your mouth which release saliva to start the digestion process are activated by sight and smell. We have evolved by using visual cues to decide whether we think food is appealing and safe to eat. Flavour and texture of food can be heightened when you are actively thinking about them and you may feel more gratitude towards your food and where it has come from.

Eat at set times

I know, eating at set times is often easier said than done. Life can be hectic and it can be difficult to keep a particular time free for cooking and eating meals. However, we know that snacking and irregular eating poses the risk of consuming foods which do not fill us up and are not particularly nutritious. Over time this can build up into eating habits that are not ideal for our diet. Making a habit of sitting to eat at a table, and to eat from bowls & plates with utensils at designated times is associated with healthier eating habits, and may positively affect your mood, sleep schedule, and overall health. Enjoying meals with company can also slow down our eating due to conversation and reduce the likelihood of indulging in emotional eating behaviours that we might follow when we are alone due to stress, sadness or boredom.

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