How mindful eating can have an effect on both your physiology and psychology
Changing the way that you eat could be beneficial for your mind and your body!
As a nutritionist who has practised yoga for over 30 years I incorporate the practise into many of my nutrition sessions with clients. I don’t always work with them on the yoga asana- (postures) that is only a very small part of yoga. I work with them on mindful eating and breath work and without exception, my clients find it a very powerful experience.
Breakfast for example - If you get the chance to actually eat breakfast.! Often rushed, whilst doing multi tasks- emptying the dishwasher, sorting out the children, feeding pets, checking e mails, looking at the exciting lives of all your friends via social media. Sometimes, grabbing a coffee and take out on your commute. If you are still working from home, possibly logging on and having breakfast at the lap top as you check messages and the days planned activities.
Lunch is often a quick bite whilst trying to catch up on e mails, and now, more and more people are working from home lunch seems to get lost somewhere in between the morning log on and the evening log off!!!
Then our evening meals are often spent in front of the TV focussing on the screen in front of us rather than the delicious fuel we are providing to this magnificent machine we call the “Human body”
None of this is wrong, its just how, in the 21st century many of us seem to live our lives. That is why when I ask people what they have eaten the day before they very often can not remember. It’s not because they have forgotten, it’s because they were not actually focussing on eating. If you get the opportunity, look at a dog or a cat when they are eating. Totally focused. Maybe the odd wag of a tail in appreciation ( dogs). Maybe the odd look of disdain when the cat realises its only supermarket pouches and not the leading brand. But when they eat the are totally absorbed in the process. They don’t check out their mobile phones, watch TV or drive or walk!! They are mindful and focussed and this is what mindful eating incorporates.
If you feel that mindful eating is something you may find beneficial try the exercise below:
Practise this exercise with a small item of food. Something that you really enjoy. Chocolate is a good one. Just 1 or 2 cubes, or a small item of fruit- a satsuma. Once you have mastered it, then try to use it in your daily eating activities. Maybe look at building mindful eating into your daily routine. In a way it’s a little like exercise, You, would not just set off to run a marathon after not doing any training! The same applies here, gradually build up your ability to work on your mindful eating by first maybe trying it with a snack, then decide on a meal which you would like to try to eat mindfully. For example, lunch. Decide and set yourself a goal to then eat your lunch mindfully 3x over the week. Once you have built up your practise you will then be able to expand it to more meals. Then before you realise, you will be mindfully eating with most of your meals.
Turn off all devices, only focus on the process of eating. If you are at a desk, move away,
Place the food in front of you and settle comfortably in your seat, you may want to place your feet flat on the ground, and take several breaths just to settle yourself. Close your eyes and visualise the food in front of you.
Open your eyes and look at the food in front of you, approach it with interest, imagine it is the first time you have seen it. Notice what information you are receiving from your eyes, colour, shape, size, texture, try to describe it to yourself.
As you keep looking at it, now touch it, the texture, shape, temperature, again, describe this to yourself.
Hold the food up to your nose and in hale, what aroma do you smell? Taste and smell are closely linked, imagine now what the food may taste like.
Now take a bite of the food but do not chew it. Keep it held in your mouth, it may start to melt, notice what sensations are happening, saliva may be being produced.
Now begin to chew the food, here it crunch, and again feel the sensations and the flavours in your mouth. Continue like this as you chew and swallow the food. Think about where the food has come from. Is it farmed? Harvested, has an animal given its life to enable you to maintain your wellbeing? Just having gratitude for a moment can have a very powerful impact.
You may want to reflect on this exercise and compare it to how you would normally eat or drink.
So, what are the benefits of mindful eating?
The process of digestion begins in the mouth where the salivary glands aid in the process of carbohydrate digestion and the chewing of food can break it up into smaller pieces for the enzymes in the small intestine to work more efficiently. This can in some instances really help with those people who find indigestion, bloating etc a problem- Leaky gut syndrome. (However, other additional tests and supplements as well as nutritional manipulation are also very often required).
For people who eat really quickly, mindful eating is a great way to slow everything down and to just be in the moment thinking and focussing on the process of eating and allowing the food to be a wonderful fuel for the body. The process of mindfully eating your food may help you feel fuller as you enable the digestive process to do the jo it is designed to do. By smelling, chewing and tasting your food. Incorporating mindful eating into a nutritional program for some individuals who find they have a poor relationship with food can be very beneficial.
Clients who suffer with anxiety often bring their problems to meal times, and in the process feel detached from the meal. by mindfully eating and focussing on their food, they are giving their body and mind an opportunity to rest.
Try the exercise with family meal times. Just for a few minutes at the start of a meal discuss the meal rather than what a terrible day you have had! It may make a massive difference. If you are with young children, they find the experience fun, especially if they can contribute to the discussion of describing the colours, flavours and textures of the meal they are going to be eating.
I hope that you enjoy your mindful eating and more importantly find that it helps you with your health and wellbeing.