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Mindful eating

The BDA (British Dietetic Association) refer to mindful eating as: ‘Being fully present in the moment when you’re eating, without distractions, may improve your eating experience, promote positive, healthy eating habits and behaviours’

What is ‘Mindfulness’?

Mindfulness is being acutely aware of all experiences presenting themselves to you. It means being totally focussed in the moment which you are experiencing, without judgement, and accepting it for what it is. It is a way to help us consider thoughts, physical sensations and behaviours without reacting automatically which in turn helps us to be more rational in our reactions. It is being present in the moment and not thinking about other things such as worrying about life’s stressors. 

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is a form of mindfulness and simply means to be fully present whilst eating i.e. no distractions such as the TV, mobile phone or radio. It increases awareness of your thoughts, senses and feelings in the times before, during and after you have eaten. Mindful eating is extrapolating the concept of mindfulness to the experiences of food and eating. 

Why is it a good idea to eat mindfully?

Eating mindfully can help us appreciate food more and form a better relationship with food. Research suggests that mindful eating can help with emotional eating and/ or binge eating thus, promoting a healthier relationship with food altogether. 

Eating mindfully could help to regulate appetite, promote healthy digestion and make eating a really enjoyable and pleasurable experience, as it helps to reconnect with food through all our senses whilst also being more in tune with hunger and satiety (fullness) signals.

Mindful eating is not about overly restricting oneself, dieting or obsessively counting calories. It is about enjoying and appreciating food. It can be really helpful in order to gauge what is an appropriate amount of food for you as an individual at each meal time. 

Key Components in mindful eating:

  1. Pleasure of eating

Eating mindfully can help us heighten any pleasure and satisfaction from eating. Usually, when eating we are on autopilot (quickly eating at work, or eating whilst watching TV). When we eat mindfully, we bring awareness to the idea that eating is a multisensory experience encompassing sight, smell, touch, taste, sound, temperature and texture (soft vs crunchy) of the food. Paying attention to this can help us work out amount of food we require and types of food we enjoy most and which make us feel satisfied after eating. It also helps us learn which foods do not make us feel as good after eating them – have you ever felt tired a few hours after eating lots of sugary foods or after a rich fatty meal? 

2. Food neutrality- there are no “good” or “bad” foods

This concept helps us view food in a more neutral way; for example instead of saying ‘this pizza is fattening’, (a negative thought about pizza) neutral thoughts are associated with the food i.e. ‘this pizza is soggy’ or ‘this pizza is thin and crispy’ and ‘this pizza is satisfying my hunger’. 

3. Embracing and practicing gratuity

A key aspect of being mindful of the entire eating experience includes being grateful for our food. Perhaps we feel grateful to be able to obtain food so easily, or grateful we have a safe food system. Maybe it’s gratuity for the delivery driver who delivered your online food shop the next day as you didn’t have time to go shopping. Being grateful for our food allows us to think about food in an entirely different perspective. There are so many reasons to be grateful for the food we have. 

4. Olfacto-gustatory alliesthesia

Mindful eating increases awareness of how our perception of pleasure and palatability of food changes throughout eating it. When you are really hungry and begin eating a meal, the first bite will taste incredible because you are so hungry, but over the course of the meal, the perception of how good the food tastes slowly diminishes. This is known as alimentary/ olfacto-gustatory alliesthesia and is a really useful cue which, when paid attention to, can be used to gauge how full you feel (satiety level).

5. Eating technique

Eating slowly, chewing our food and leaving gaps between mouthfuls is an integral part of mindful eating. It is an opportunity to pay attention to the myriad of sensations presenting themselves as you chew. Chewing food properly is imperative; it aids digestion because our saliva contains digestive enzymes which digest fats and sugars in the mouth. If you don’t chew your food well enough, this first part of digestion can be compromised, leading to problems such as poor nutrient absorption, acidreflux, indigestion and bloating. Chewing food properly gives enough time for the stomach to secrete the necessary digestive juices to optimise digestion which will decrease common digestive issues. 

The more thoroughly you chew, the more time it will take you to finish a meal. Eating slowly can help you to eat less, resulting in weight loss. It takes around 20 minutes for your brain to realise that you’re full. This may explain why studies find people report feeling fuller off less food when they ate slowly, and they also ended up consuming 10 percent fewer calories when they ate at a slow pace. 

Take Home Message:

It is really important to make the most of mealtimes, try and enjoy them with people that you enjoy being with;  relatives or close friends and use it as a chance to have screen-free time (i.e. no distractions such as mobile phones, tablets or lap tops).  Make sure to enjoy your food- food should be a source of pleasure and enjoyment whilst nourishing your body with the required micro nutrients (vitamins and minerals from food) and macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats). After surgery portions are smaller so this is even more of a reason to enjoy eating slowly and mindfully- it makes the food last longer. 

In this contemporary society: lives and lifestyles are so fast paced and stressful that taking time out each day to enjoy food with others is one of life’s true pleasures that should be enjoyed- guilt free!

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