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Mindfulness and Nutrition

In this second article on eating with intention, we are going to look at the benefits of bringing mindfulness to your eating habits. Mindfulness simply means paying close attention to whatever is happening in the present moment, with a sense of non-judgemental curiosity. This may sound simple but for many people, applying this to food means changing lifelong habits that have never been questioned. Make sure you take the short Mindful Eating Quiz at the bottom of the page to help assess how much intention you currently bring to your meal times.

What is mindful eating?

Mindfulness involves bringing your conscious awareness to whatever is happening in the present moment. Many of us spend our time thinking about the past or making plans for the future. This is sometimes referred to as being in our 'doing' mind as we are preoccupied with actions, events and conversations. Being in our 'doing' mind can be a useful tool but equally useful is to move into our 'being' mind, where thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, bodily functions, movements, actions, reactions, beliefs, fears, anxieties and desires are simply observed as they come and go, without judgement. If you would like to learn more about mindfulness and its benefits for your health and wellbeing, there is a fantastic, free 8-week course that you can take here.

So what does all this have to do with food and nutrition? Well, one of the downsides of being constantly in our 'doing' mind is that our relationship with food can become distorted. Instead of being in touch with bodily feelings of hunger and using these as triggers to eat, and to stop eating, food can become something that is associated with emotions, or even with boredom. How often do you go to the fridge and put something in your mouth without really knowing why you are doing it, or buy a chocolate bar or ice cream as a way of soothing emotional discomfort?

Mindful eating is about being aware of both what you are eating and why you are eating it. It is about checking in with yourself before you eat and asking "am I really hungry, or do I have some other need right now that could be met in a different way?" Some of the benefits you might experience from introducing a more mindful approach to eating include:

  • Improved digestion: Mindful eating involves slowing down, which allows the body more time to break down food and absorb nutrients. Chewing food thoroughly can aid in digestion, reduce the likelihood of indigestion, and prevent overeating by giving your brain enough time to realise that you are full.

  • Weight management: By focusing on the quality of each bite, mindful eaters tend to consume less food and make healthier choices. This can lead to better weight management. Mindful eating also encourages listening to your body's hunger and fullness cues, allowing you to eat when you are truly hungry and stop when you are satisfied.

  • Reduced emotional eating: Emotional eating means consuming food in response to feelings rather than hunger and can lead to unhealthy habits and weight gain. Mindful eating encourages you to recognise when your are feeling emotional and find an alternative way of meeting your needs, reducing the tendency to use food as a source of comfort.

  • Enhanced enjoyment: Taking the time to savor each bite allows for a deeper appreciation of the flavors, textures, and aromas of food, making eating an all-round more pleasurable experience This heightened sensory experience can elevate everyday meals and create more satisfying and enjoyable eating experiences.

  • Decreased stress: When you eat mindfully, you take the time to pause and reflect on what is happening to all your senses during the meal. This can help to create a feeling of calm relaxation that will reduce your stress levels and aid in your overall mental well-being.

  • Strengthened self-control: Mindful eating encourages self-awareness, which helps you to identify and change unhelpful eating patterns that may causing harm without you even realising it. Becoming aware of a habit is always the first step to exercising self-control over it.

  • Greater connection with food: Mindful eating helps you to think about where your food comes from, including the whole journey that it took to arrive at your plate. This deeper connection can promote gratitude and a greater appreciation for the resources and efforts involved in food production.

Are you a mindful eater?

Use the quiz below to gauge how mindful your eating habits currently are. Go through each question and answer yes or no.It may be that your most accurate answer would fall somewhere in between but in this case try to assess how you would act in most cases. Make a note of your scores in each category and in the combined total at the bottom. Higher scores indicate a more mindful approach to eating.

Take note of the categories that you score the lowest on and think about what changes you can start making to your eating habits to start shifting the scores higher. Don't try to change everything at once. What sustainable change can you make today that will move things in the right direction? If you need some tips to get you started, look out for my next article in this series that will have tips on becoming a more mindful eater.

Make a note of where you are now and come back to this quiz as you move through your mindfulness journey so that you can track your progress and monitor which elements you find the easiest and which may need extra attention.

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