Mindful Eating: a new commitment to food

Nowadays, we are always rushing into something or somewhere. When it is time to pause for having a meal, our brain keeps connected to everything around us: we constantly check our phones, we are absorbed by social media news, and stressed by work and life issues. Amidst such turbulence, how can we be aware of the compromises made in our relationship with food?

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Inverting old and bad eating habits

Cultural, economic and marketing practices affect the way we buy and use food. Labour, leisure, preferences and lifestyle changes have made us increasingly sedentary also jeopardizing our eating habits. In the hope of contradicting these paths, many new diets have emerged, offering a range of ways to lose weight and improve our health. All these new solutions are nonetheless focused on cutting and adding nutrients to our meals, forgetting an essential part of the process: our eating behaviour.

Mindful eating cuts across this boom of trendy diets to alert us that healthy eating also included rethinking our eating habits and our relationship with food. This bond with what we eat derives from the awareness taste, smell, colour and texture of food. According to the Centre for Mindful Eating, “pausing and becoming curious focuses the mind. Mindful Eating cultivates becoming grounded in the present moment’s awareness of eating.”

This complete awareness helps us to focus or thoughts and feelings in those physical sensations related to eating, and to identify the true origin of hunger – whether if it is a physical hunger or if it is a consequence of an emotional cause.

Mindful Eating has been helpful in treating many conditions, including eating disorders – like binge eating -, depression or anxiety, and addressing various erroneous food-related behaviours.

How to practise Mindful Eating

Practising Mindful Eating may not be an easy task since it usually contradicts our normal eating habits, simultaneously demanding total concentration. According to the Harvard Health Publishing, there are a few steps that can help us improve our Mindful Eating.

First, the shopping list. We should consider the health value of every item added, preventing us from impulse buying at the supermarket. A second step is discipline.  We should avoid skipping meals and thus prevent seating at the table with excessive hunger. Meals should be taken with an appetite but in appropriate portions.

The third step involves the essence of Mindful Eating. “Appreciate your food. Pause for a minute or two before you begin eating to contemplate everything it took to bring the meal to your table. Silently express your gratitude for the opportunity to enjoy delicious food and the companions you’re enjoying it with.

Bring all your senses to the meal. When you’re cooking, serving, and eating your food, be attentive to colour, texture, aroma, and even the sounds different foods make as you prepare them. As you chew, try identifying all the ingredients, especially seasonings” as advised by Harvard Health Publishing.

The following steps involve taste and chewing. It’s easier to taste food completely when our mouth isn’t full. So taking small bites and putting down utensils between bites could help. Chewing thoroughly and eating slowly are other techniques that improve our experience in tasting all the flavours that are released.

Final advice: “Devote at least five minutes to Mindful Eating before you chat with your tablemates.”

How can mindfulness mediation make you happier and improve your brain

Mindfulness is a technique that consists of being able to concentrate in one thing at a time, disconnect from the world around and be fully committed to meditate about a given subject. This can improve concentration levels, but can also make people less stressed, happy, and with improved memory.

The Huffington Post explains in a recent article the four different ways our lives can be improved by using mindfulness, and thus being able to live a happier life.

Mindfulness helps people to become more aware of their inner self and that is helpful for general wellbeing.

The first way that mindfulness can help is distracting our minds from negative thought loops: Mindfulness meditation is a form of rigorous training of the mind which helps us to become more familiar with the nature of the mind and more skillful in noticing when our minds are getting caught up in these unhelpful patterns of thought. When we learn to observe this, we can actually choose to disengage and move our attention in ways that support us rather than pull us down.”

The second aspect is making people feel more connected to others: “Mindfulness can deepen and enrich our relationships as we bring a quality of present moment attention to the people around us.”

The third aspect is helping people to reconnect with their inner contentment, which is the inner ability to be happy with oneself: “(…) help us cultivate a sense of inner wellbeing which allows us to feel content and well without needing to obtain anything from the outside world.”

The last way that mindfulness can improve people’s lives is enhancing gratitude: “mindfulness can infuse our lives with gratitude and enhance our appreciation of the ordinary things which can so often pass by unnoticed.”

These four different ways seem to leverage our overall ability to be happy and to feel happiness with the small things in life that many times are undervalued.

A recent study by Harvard University connected mindfulness practice with improving the brain and boost memory and empathy and reduce stress. The study concluded that practising mindfulness for 8 weeks can make a significant change in the grey matter. “Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day. This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”

Read more about the study here.

If you would like to learn more about mindfulness techniques, read our previous blogpost here and read about our mindfulness program here.