What exactly is mindful eating?
Well, research defines it as incorporating the following:
- Mindfully noticing the eating experience by noticing the smell, texture and taste of the food
- Reducing how quickly we eat
- Understanding and acknowledging our own response to foods (likes, dislikes, or don’t mind) without any judgement
- Being aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to allow us make the right decision regarding when to start and stop eating
- Research shows that being mindful of what we put in our mouths not only stops us from accidentally over-consuming, with the problems that that entails, but also allows us to really enjoy the process and take full advantage of the flavours and experiences of the food we choose to eat.
- Mindful eating allows us to be in tune with our hunger, to sense our levels of fullness, and to feel satisfied about what we are consuming
So, how does mindful eating work?
Digestion actually begins in the brain in what is termed the ‘cephalic phase’ of eating. Just by acknowledging, smelling and seeing our food, our brain starts to get our body ready for the digestive process ahead. Just think about a time when you’ve smelled fresh bread wafting out of the bakers, or when you watch Nigella making anything on TV — your body starts to prepare to eat — your tummy rumbles, your mouth waters.
Stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system,, or the ‘rest and digest’ mode of our bodies, by the evidence of an imminent meal triggers the brain to prepare the digestive tract for nourishment.
Taking this time allows your digestive juices in your mouth and stomach to get to work, thereby improving the level of digestion you will achieve. Remember the last time you bolted down a meal and felt bloated and terrible — your body wasn’t in the right state to be accepting that food, and therefore your digestion was impaired.
But it’s not just physical preparation that is helped by mindful eating. Research shows that it affects us emotionally too. Psychologists have found that mindfulness helps people to recognise the difference between emotional and physical hunger and satiety, thereby introducing a moment of opportunity and consideration between the urge to eat and the act of eating.
It’s all too common for us to eat for many reasons that aren’t actual physical hunger — boredom, sadness, irritation, sometimes just because it’s there. And that’s ok — but by giving ourselves a moment’s contemplation, we allow ourselves the opportunity to decide if it really is what we want to do.