Meditate on food with mindful eating

by Jennifer Bowden / 17 April, 2017

Photo/Getty Images

Thoughtfulness about why, what and how we consume food is a healthy dietary step. 

If you want to join the trend to mindful eating, the good news is it takes no more than giving full attention to your appetite, food choices and meals. By making conscious decisions around food, research suggests, we’ll be steered towards healthier food that can help with weight problems.

It’s almost inevitable that we become inattentive about what we eat as we automatically consume our three meals a day. Dining while distracted by a companion, our phone, a book or the television, we can easily finish a meal without fully experiencing the food’s flavour and texture or appreciating how we felt while eating.

Mindfulness is the process of giving our attention to the present and focusing on internal and external experiences without judgement. Mindful eating involves removing the “automatic” nature of mealtimes by being deliberate in our food choices, then making a point of noticing what we’re thinking and physically experiencing with each mouthful.

Mindful eating could be just what our body needs, according to research. Adults and adolescents trained to eat mindfully were found to make fewer impulsive food choices, and a clinical trial showed overweight adolescents encouraged to take a thoughtful approach to food shed kilos. 

In 2012, researchers found middle-aged New Zealand women who ate intuitively – by paying attention to hunger and fullness signals – were more likely to have a lower body mass index (BMI) than other women. Although the research is in its early days, there are many reasons to change. Focusing on our appetite and what we put in our mouths removes many poor-diet triggers, such as eating for emotional reasons rather than out of hunger; letting phones and televisions distract us, leading to overeating; and not chewing properly, thereby reducing digestive effectiveness.

If it feels like a foreign concept, there are a number of useful prompts, starting from the moment you get the eating urge:

  • Before opening the pantry, ask yourself: “Am I really hungry?” Use a simple appetite scale of 1-5 to answer this question, with 1 being very hungry, 2 hungry, 3 satisfied, 4 full and 5 very full.
  • Ideally, we should eat when hungry, rather than very hungry, so we make thoughtful food choices.
  • If you’re not hungry, you should ask yourself why you want to eat – is it out of boredom or stress, for pleasure, because of convenience or habit, to ease emotions or tiredness, or as a distraction? Deal with the real issue.
  • If you’re hungry, ask yourself what you feel like eating and choose something healthy that meets your needs.
  • Ask yourself how much food you need. You should start with a small serving and have more if you’re still hungry.
  • Throughout the process, focus on what you’re experiencing.

Meditating on food

Automatic eating is what most of us do, so to break the habit, start slowly by eating one meal mindfully each day, or just one a week. In an era of multitasking, it might feel like wasted time, but look at it this way – you’re both eating and meditating on your food, weaving physical nourishment and relaxation into your day. Here’s how:

  • Turn off the television and put away your phone, books and other distractions.
  • Observe your food before you eat it – notice the colours, for example.
  • To start, set a kitchen timer to 20 minutes and make your meal last the full time.
  • Try eating with your non-dominant hand to slow yourself down.
  • Chew every mouthful thoroughly and savour the flavour and texture.
  • Put your utensils down or pause after each mouthful.
  • Try eating silently for five minutes to fully appreciate the colours, flavour, texture and aroma of your food.
  • Stop eating when you feel satisfied, even if there is still food on your plate.

Email your nutrition questions to nutrition@listener.co.nz.

This article was first published in the March 25, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener. Follow the Listener on Twitter, Facebook and sign up to the weekly newsletter.

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