How Mindfulness Can Change Our Eating Behaviour
Find yourself grabbing a chocolate bar in the midst of a difficult day? Crave ice-cream after a bad date? Our moods have the ability to effect our food choices–whether consciously or not. We could have the perfect meal plan at 7am, but when life gets in the way (as it inevitably does), our best intentions fly out the window. These patterns of behaviour can be hard to kick, but it is possible.
Mindfulness has been proven to do wonders for our mental health. It helps manage stress, increases productivity and concentration, as well as enables us to connect more fully to the world around us. It can also change our eating behaviour.
Mindfulness has been linked to weight loss, and been shown to effectively decrease emotional eating. How does one become more mindful? Good question. You don’t have to go to a meditation retreat in India. Mindful eating is about slowing down, reducing distractions, connecting with your food, and learning not to eat as a way of coping with stress.
Here are five ways to eat more mindfully, and improve your relationship with food.
1. Slow Down
Eating is meant to be a pleasurable experience, but too often we find ourselves shovelling food down our throats on the way to our next meeting. Eating too fast often results in eating too much. When we compulsively chow down our meals, we don’t give our brain time to register how full we are. Take a moment between each mouthful to pause, take a breath, and register how you’re feeling. Take time to notice the taste and texture of your food. Is it sweet? Salty? Crunchy? Smooth? Take smaller bites, and chew for longer. Slowing down will not only make you enjoy your meal, but help you eat less in the long run.
2. Reduce Distraction
We’re all guilty of eating in font of the TV, while replying to text messages, and even while we drive. But how does eating this way effect your relationship to food? Ever been surprised at how fast it takes to get to the bottom of that chip packet while watching a movie? When we're distracted, we don't register how much food we're putting into our body. One of the simplest ways to eat mindfully, is to reserve eating time to just eating. Try turning the TV off at meal times. Walk away from your desk at lunchtime, and make meal times a rest from work. Actually focusing on eating makes our brain register our food, eliminating cravings later.
3. Connect with your meal
We’re definitely not hunter and gatherers anymore. No longer growing our own food, and sometimes not even preparing it, we have no idea how our food even got onto our plate. We’ve lost connection to what we are eating, and therefore eating has become an alienated experience. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says thinking deeply about where your food comes from while you eat, nourishes you not only physically, but spiritually. Start by picking one object, say a potato, and contemplate how it got on your plate. Who planted it? What conditions brought it into existence? When we connect with what we're putting into our body, we’re more likely to make better food choices.
As we’ve mentioned, stress can cause us to make some pretty bad food decisions. It’s known to cause changes in appetite, promote cravings for comfort food, and it's also been linked to weight gain, so keeping our stress levels in check is important. Meditation has been proven to improve resilience and change reactions to stressful situations, in other words, meditation can help us manage stress without extra food.
5. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full
It sounds so simple–eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full–but due to our mind/body disconnection, many of us have lost all sense of our natural body cues. We’re either eating all day and never feeling hungry, or we’re ignoring our hunger completely. Listening to our body and trusting what it says, is paramount to eating mindfully. Pay attention to what you’re body is telling you. When you’re hungry, eat. While you’re eating, take notice of when you start feeling satisfied–this is when you’re meant to stop eating. Listening to our body helps us to develop a natural pattern of eating, and discourages over-indulgence.