Mindful Eating: What is it and Why Should You Get on Board?

Most of us are all too familiar with the feeling of a disappearing bag of (insert snack/junk food here) while watching tv or staring at our computer. As much as we think we can multi-task, our brains have different levels of processing, and sometimes conscious eating can take a back seat when it is up against stressful work or an exciting movie. Gazing down at a phone is a common sight to see in restaurants and cafes these days, and it's not doing us any good. We all could do with eating a bit more consciously and mindfully, aka, mindful eating.

What is it?

Mindfulness in general is the concept and practice of paying attention to how you feel and also to your surroundings. In terms of eating, it means something very similar, paying attention to what you eat and how it makes you feel. By paying attention to your food and the eating experience, you become much more aware of your hunger and fullness signals, in addition to your general satisfaction and food cravings. Our body is a complex system full of different signals that interact with each other and control much of our behaviour, mindful eating encourages you to interact with this system and eat the way nature intended you to.

The Biology

Our hunger and fullness alone are controlled by a web of different hormones, chemicals and physical signals. For example, just the sight and smell of food can activate our hunger signals and can even start the digestion process by producing saliva in order to prepare our body for food. Once food is in our mouth, the act of chewing sends signals that helps prepare our stomach to start digesting, on top of continuous signals coming from the taste, smell and sight of food. 

Fullness is another very interactive process, our stomach stretching sends signals to our brain to tell us we are full, but these signals can take 20 minutes to come through! We can also feel full due to the types of food in our stomach, rich foods will likely make you feel fuller and satisfied earlier. You may also notice that the fuller you get, the worse your food tastes and the less appetising it becomes, this is your brains way of telling you that you are getting full.

Why our current habits are a problem

As you will have just read, there are so many delicate signals that tell us that we are hungry or that we are full, and not paying attention to these signals can completely mess with our appetite. If you are focusing on something else such as your phone, laptop or the TV, you are likely not paying attention to these signals and are overriding them. When they have such an important role to play, this can have noticeable side effects. For example, many people that complain of digestive problems do not suffer from a food intolerance or IBS, it is actually that they are not paying enough attention to their food and it is affecting their digestion. Not taking in the sight, smell or taste of your food, and eating it quickly can actually mean that you aren't producing as many digestive enzymes and you are inhibiting your digestion from working properly! This isn't to say that digestive issues don't exist, they definitely do, but many people's symptoms can be improves simply by changing their eating habits.

How to eat mindfully

With that in mind, here are some tips to practice mindful eating:

  • When you are eating, just eat! Say no to phones, laptops, TVs or any other activity in the dining room.
  • Sit down to eat and enjoy it, try not to eat on the go.
  • Chew your food properly. Aim for a good 10 chews per mouthful, or until it is broken down to a more mushy texture in your mouth.
  • Take your time. Remember that those fullness signals can take a good 20 minutes, so don't inhale your food.
  • Listen to your body. Food starting to not taste great? You are probably getting full! 
  • Appreciate you food!
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