Improved nutrition, portion control, and reduced hunger are just three of the benefits of mindful eating. Mindful eating isn’t a new concept. It is based on the Buddhist principle of mindfulness, which described simply, involves being fully-present and immersed in the current moment.
In our busy contemporary lives, mindless eating has become the norm. We multitask through our busy days, serial snacking to avoid the inconvenience and emotionally uncomfortable sensations of being hungry.
Mindfulness affects the body’s physiology
Digestion is a subconscious activity, governed by our parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. It involves a complex group of hormonal signals between our gut and our mind which gets interrupted when our sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system is activated. Stress, negative emotions, or eating in a hurry impacts our body’s ability to properly digest food. Being mindful and slowing down at meal-time can help preserve the delicate hormonal balance that signals when we have eaten enough. It can also have a profound impact on the quality of nourishment we receive.
The benefits of mindful eating
A number of studies conducted by nutritionists, psychologists, and physicians have linked mindful eating to benefits in weight control, food cravings, portion size, emotional eating, cancer recovery and treatment, and diabetes.
In general, mindful eating supports your body with the following benefits:
- Better digestion
- Better nutrition
- Reduced caloric intake
- Portion control
- Weight loss and weight maintenance
- Regulation of hunger hormones
- Management of emotional, social, and recreational eating
- Improved nutritional choices
Adopt these mindful eating practices
Don’t “mix and match” mealtimes with other activities, like work, driving, or watching television. Adopt the following mindful eating habits:
- Observe your body: learn to recognize if you are physically hungry or eating for emotional reasons. Signs of physical hunger include a rumbling stomach, empty stomach, headache, light-headedness, lack of energy, and shakiness/weakness. Avoid eating simply because you think you should, because someone else tells you to, or to provide an emotional reward.
- Be present: Turn off the television and put your phone aside while eating. Don’t eat and read, even if you are eating alone. Pay attention to your food, and evoke positive emotions such as gratitude before, during, and after the meal. Saying “grace” or taking a few moments of thanks or meditation can work wonders.
- Experience your meal: Don’t mindlessly munch or rush through your meal. Experience your food with all of your senses. Eat slowly and chew thoroughly. Develop an awareness of all of the tastes and textures of food.
- Be kind. Avoid harsh judgements: Each time you eat, it is a conscious choice to nourish yourself. Be kind to yourself and accept your food choices.
The Harvard Health Letter offered additional mindful eating tips from Lilian Cheung, author of Savor: Mindful Eating for a Mindful Life, co-written with Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.
Some of the tips included:
- Set a kitchen timer for 20 minutes and use the time to eat a normally-portioned, nutritious meal.
- Eat with your non-dominant hand.
- Use chopsticks if you normally use a knife, fork, and spoon.
- Eat silently for five minutes.
- Take small bites and chew thoroughly.
Mindful eating has offered benefits to many different people. Not only can it improve digestion and help us to get the most nutrition out of the food that we eat, it can help us to choose the foods we eat more wisely. We can’t directly control the unconscious processes which our body goes through during and after meals to digest our food. We can control our mealtime environment and we can reduce the harm that the opposite of mindful eating, “mindless eating” can cause.