The ancient practice of mindful eating can enable us to enjoy the food we eat, maintain a healthy weight, and avoid a whole range of health problems.
With the busy lives we all lead, meals are often rushed affairs. We eat quickly, on the run, in the car, working at our desks and watching TV. Because of this many of us have weight or digestive problems and most of us are barely aware of the food we are eating.
What is ‘mindful eating’?
Eating should be a natural, pleasurable way of nourishing our bodies and satisfying hunger, and yet in our food-abundant and diet-obsessed culture it has become a guilt-inducing battleground.
Mindful eating is an ancient practice in which attention is paid to how and where we eat food.
It means learning to listen to your body and recognising signals, understanding the differences between emotional and physical hunger, choosing foods that will nourish you and satisfy your hunger, and learning to recognise non-hunger triggers for eating.
Top tips for mindful eating
Always sit – preferably at a table
Give attention to your food and enjoy the experience.
Avoid distractions while you eat
Don’t turn to the TV, your laptop or your phone. Ban electronics at the family dinner table so that you can simply enjoy the food and each other’s company.
Take time to chew and savour your food. This technique helps with weight loss, as you will give your brain enough time to recognise signals that you are full and will prevent over-eating.
It will also improve digestion, as the digestive process begins in the mouth and if the food is chewed well enough there is less strain on the rest of the digestive system.
Practice laying down your fork in between mouthfuls
Wait until you have swallowed one mouthful before reaching for another.
Eat in silence sometimes
Whilst boisterous family mealtimes can be fun and a way to catch up on the day’s events, try to enjoy silence even for a few moments, so that you can all appreciate your meal and give thanks to the person who spent time preparing it.
Recognise the differences between emotional and physical hunger
Emotional hunger needs to be satisfied immediately while physical hunger can wait. Emotional hunger is not satisfied by a full stomach and physical hunger stops when you are full.
Think about your eating triggers – the reasons why you choose to eat at a particular time
Are you actually hungry? Or are you bored, lonely, stressed, upset, or angry? If your triggers are non-hunger related, find alternatives to food that can help to meet your emotional needs at that time.
If you are bored, do something you enjoy such as reading a book or completing a puzzle. If you are lonely, phone a friend. If you are stressed, upset or angry, practice a breathing or relaxation exercise or go for a walk outdoors.
Consider the foods you choose to eat
Are they full of nutrients that will nourish you? Are they foods that will satisfy you for hours and not merely minutes?
Think about the story behind your food before it got on your plate
Eating in this way not only helps us to form positive relationships with food, it also helps us to make better food choices, enhancing our overall health and wellbeing.
Find out more about nutritional therapy on Nuffield Health’s dedicated website here.