Everywhere we look we seem to be given the same message – “Be mindful – practice MINDFULNESS – be PRESENT – live in the NOW”. Mindfulness is the practice of “paying attention to the activity at hand”, whether it is drawing, eating, driving, swimming, walking, listening to music, writing, cooking or any of your daily activities. Being present to what is happening right now is key to mindfulness. So, how does that work when it comes to eating? What is the impact on your wellbeing and why should you incorporate mindful eating into your daily life? (1)
How many meals do you take the time to sit down and make your meal a slow considered activity? Many of us are so busy in our everyday lives that often it’s a grab & go type food whilst we continue hurrying to our next commitment. Rushing while eating is not only an unpleasant experience and a reflection of our incredibly hectic, stressful daily lives; but it also has an impact on our ability to digest food, our general health and even our mental wellbeing.
In a study investigating the relationship between mindful eating and mental well-being, Khan & Zadeh found; as predicted, there was a positive relationship between the two. This may however suggest though that those with higher levels of mental well-being are actually mindful eaters. (1)
What does it mean to be a mindful eater:
Interestingly mindful eating is not about judging your choices; it’s about paying attention and focusing on what and how you are eating. Noticing sensations, taste, texture, smell – enjoying and savouring each mouthful. It is conscious eating and the opposite of mindless, thoughtless, frantic munching on the run. In fact, many believe that when you “connect with your eating experience and reflect on the source of the food, those who prepared it, those eating around you, and the sensations in your body, you will feel more satisfied regardless of what or how you are eating”. (2)
Mindfulness and weight loss have also attracted some attention recently; in fact, in a very specific randomised control trial, the objective was to analyse the “effect of a mindful restaurant eating intervention on weight management”. The participants were peri menopausal women who ate out at least 3 times per week. The intervention included educating participants on mindful eating techniques. The results showed that participants in the intervention group lost significantly more weight and had fewer barriers to weight management when eating out. (3)
It seems reasonable to assume that mindfulness could very well be helpful in the context of weight loss. Weight loss is a process that often requires one to be slightly out of their comfort zone; adjusting to new “norms”, feelings of hunger, learning to say “no” and delaying gratification may all be new sensations for someone adhering to a weight loss program. Mindfulness may facilitate and give an individual insight and tolerance, which as we know, is required in order to successfully stick to a program that may initially feel uncomfortable. According to KayLoni L et al, it is thought that greater mindfulness may build more resilience which is necessary to make the long-term lifestyle changes that are required to sustain long-term weight loss. (4,5,6)
In his book “Mindless Eating”, Brian Wansink (PH.D.) highlights some fascinating discoveries when it comes to how the mind perceives food, food psychology and how the environment influences our food choices and eating behaviours.
Some interesting examples include:
- It was found that eating from large bowls increases consumption because relative to the bowl, the amount of food eaten seems small.
- Eating with a big group influences how much we eat, the amount eaten by the group sets the stage for how much we think we should eat.
- Another fascinating point made was that somehow drinking from a tall thin glass results in drinking less than drinking from short fat glasses. We tend to over focus on height and underestimate an objects width. (7,8)
Mindful eating tips to try at home:
- Take one blueberry and spend 5 minutes (set a timer) eating it –observe the colour, texture, smell, size, taste and all the sensations associated with this one berry.
- Before you start your meal, take 3 deep breathes, and in between mouthfuls place your utensils down on the table. Take another few deep breathes before the next mouthful.
- Chew your food 10-15 times per bite.
- Place a timer on the table and try to make your meal last at least 20-30 minutes.
- Practice gratitude during your meal and use it as an opportunity to connect with others at meal times.
- Eat without any distractions – no TV, no phones or computers.
- Try eating with your non-dominant hand!
Remember mindfulness is quite difficult to master – but the goal is to keep trying. Adopt two tips today and try them on your next meal – notice how you feel and hopefully you can inspire others to slow down and enjoy the benefits of mindful eating!
- Khan Z & Zadeh ZF, 2014, “Mindful Eating and Its Relationship with mental Well-Being”, Procedia – Social and Behavioural Sciences 159 (2014) 69-73, Elsevier Ltd, in Pubmed
- Sharp S, WHOLE HEALTH: CHANGE THE CONVERSATION, Advancing skills in the delivery of Personalised, proactive, Patient-Driven care, Mindful Eating Clinical Tool, Department of Family medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. http://projects.hsl.wisc.edu/SERVICE/index.php
- Timmerman GM & Brown A, 2012, “The Effect of a Mindful Restaurant Intervention on weight Management in Women”, Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour, 44(1): 22-8, in Pubmed
- Kayloni L et al, 2015, “Mindfulness and Weight Loss: A Systemic Review”, Psychosomatic medicine 77:59-67, in Pubmed
- Forman EM et al, 2007, A comparison of acceptance-and control-based strategies for coping with food cravings: an analog study. 45(10):2372-86, in Pubmed
- Roberts KC & Danoff-Burg S, 2010, Mindfulness and health behaviours: is paying attention good for you?, J Am Coll Health, 59(3):165-73, in Pubmed
- Wansink B, 2006“Mindless eating”, 2006, Bantam Book, Random House, New York
- Hale J,2016, Mindless Eating https://psychcentral.com/lib/mindless eating