How mindful eating can change your relationship with food and promote long-term health and weight-loss.
There is no one size fits all diet that works for everyone. In fact, a lot of people dislike the word diet and prefer to call their eating choices, a “lifestyle” instead. This is completely understandable, as the word diet has come to infer restriction, deprivation or starvation to a lot of people. The true definition of the word is actually not so bad. In nutrition, diet merely describes the sum of food consumed by a person or organism. Dietary habits are the decisions we make when choosing which foods to eat. Our dietary habits and choices play a significant role in our quality of life, health and longevity. Whether you prefer to label your diet (vegan, paleo, high carb, low carb) it doesn’t matter. As long as you are putting quality foods into your body, getting enough vitamins and minerals and you feel great is what matters. If you choose to call the way you eat a ‘lifestyle’ instead of a diet that’s ok too!
Once you have learned the basics of nutrition and found a diet that works well for you the hardest part is sticking to it over a long period of time. Overeating and or over-indulging on unhealthy foods (sweets, processed foods + bad fats) is probably the #1 reason people are overweight, unhealthy and unable to make long-term changes to poor dietary habits. So why is it so hard to stick to healthy eating when it makes us look and feel so much better?
I can’t speak for everyone but I know that in the past it stemmed from a dysfunctional relationship with food. When I would overeat or indulge in unhealthy treats it was typically when I was stressed, sad, bored or not paying attetion. I never viewed food for what it truly was- nourishment for my body. In thick Naht Han’s book, Peace is Every Breathe; he describes two children’s responses to the questions, “What is the purpose of eating breakfast?” One boy replied “ to get energy for the day” while the second child replied, “the purpose of eating is to eat.” This is such a simple yet important and overlooked concept in our society and it all comes down to mindfulness.
When we stop listening to our internal cues for hunger then we begin to overeat and eat the wrong foods. Practicing mindfulness when eating is a great way to learn how to eat to live instead of live to eat. I’ve listed some simple tips from Thich Naht Han’s book below that I have also started to follow to practice mindful eating. I personally developed a bad habit of eating at night in front of the TV. It’s not surprising that this is also the time when I am most prone to overeating and or indulging in treats. Following the steps below has made a huge difference in my ability to listen to what my body really needs and curb overeating and treats. When you practice mindfulness in conjunction with healthy eating you’ll be surprised how your relationship with food changes and how easy it is to loose weight and improve your overall health.
1. Sit down at a table to eat with family and friends. Do NOT eat in front of the TV or your computer.
When we eat and watch TV we are completely unconscious and will be unable to listen to what our body is telling us that it wants/needs.Eating unconsciously in front of the TV also sets up bad habits and patterns. I used to always eat in front of the TV and found that whenever I sat down to watch TV, whether I was hungry or not, I wanted to eat something because I had created a sort of conditioned response between TV and food. In other words I had conditioned myself to want food anytime I was in front of the TV regardless of what my body truly needed.
2. Practice some quiet belly breathing before you dig in.
It may seem silly but taking a few breathes and contemplating your food before you eat can be helpful. I find that the last 2 steps also help to curb eating too quickly. Taking a few moments before starting to eat has allowed me to slow down and listen to my body
3. Slow down and chew your food!
The last time you had something to eat, you probably didn’t give too much thought to how long you chewed. For most people it’s almost as a habit or unconscious reflex. As soon as a piece of food enters your mouth, you chew and swallow, probably far too quickly (especially if you’re in a hurry or eating on the run).
The chewing process, also known as mastication, is actually extremely important, however, and serves as the first step in your digestive process. The way you chew, including how long you chew, can significantly impact your health in ways you likely never knew. Eating slowly and mindfully will have an effect in the following ways:
Absorb More Nutrients and Energy From Your Food:
Chewing breaks your food down from large particles into smaller particles that are more easily digested. This also makes it easier for your intestines to absorb nutrients from the food particles as they pass through.
Maintain a Healthy Weight:
The longer you chew, the more time it will take you to finish a meal, and research shows that eating slowly can help you to eat less and, ultimately, to avoid weight gain or even lose weight. For example, chewing your food twice as long as you normally would will instantly help you control your portion sizes, which naturally decreases calorie consumption.
It takes time (generally about 20 minutes) for your brain to signal to your stomach that you’re full, and this may explain why one study found people reported feeling fuller when they ate slowly.2 They also ended up consuming about 10 percent fewer calories when they ate at a slow pace, and presumably chewed slower, as opposed to when they were rushing.
Your Food Gets More Exposure to Your Saliva:
Saliva contains digestive enzymes, so the longer you chew, the more time these enzymes have to start breaking down your food, making digestion easier on your stomach and small intestine. Saliva also helps to lubricate your food so it’s easier on your esophagus.
The chewing process predigests your food into small pieces and partially liquefies it, making it easier to digest. Digestion is actually a very demanding task for your body, requiring a great deal of energy, especially if forced to digest improperly chewed food. Chewing properly allows your stomach to work more efficiently and break down your food faster.
Helps you enjoy and taste your food:
If you rush through your meal with hardly any chewing, you’re also not really tasting or enjoying the food. When you take the time to properly chew your food, it forces you to slow down, savor each morsel and really enjoy all the flavors your food has to offer.
4. Try not to discuss subjects that destroy your awareness of the people you are eating with or your food.
Try not to talk about your work stress or the negative things that happened during your day. The focus should remain on what you are eating and enjoying the food and company.