How mindful eating could help manage your sweet tooth!

Could changing how you eat help to keep cravings at bay?

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Emma Thornton
Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@EmmaThornton
Ask Emma


12 July 2018

How have our eating habits changed?

In recent years, as rates of obesity and type II diabetes have hit an all-time high, we’re starting to become more aware of what is good and isn’t so good for us to eat. It’s becoming more widely recognised that carbohydrates and particularly sugar may be the problem, as sugar taxes and various efforts to slow our consumption have started to come into play. 

However, despite this many people still struggle to cut their intake and cravings are a common problem. As part of conditions such as PMS, or as a result of becoming hooked on junk food diets where hidden carbs and fat are harder to avoid, sugar is becoming a part of everyday life for many.

Unfortunately, as well as the increasing consumption of sugars, eating habits have also changed, in many cases as a result of more modern lifestyles. With stressful jobs, busy routines and hectic family lives to contend with, people are eating more quickly, on the go or in front of a screen, which can have a number of detrimental effects for our health and wellbeing. As we eat aimlessly we are much likely to overeat, make poorer choices and eat a larger amount, and as a result, this can have detrimental effects on our blood sugar levels, our waistlines and overall health.

Mindful eating could be the key to getting our eating habits back on track and eating more like our ancestors would have many years ago!

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating involves taking back more control over how and what eat. Employing more mindful eating involves some important key steps:

1 - Considering when to eat

Nowadays, peoples’ busy lifestyles often govern when they eat, but actually we should be eating when you decide to! Many people skip breakfast or eat late at night and bad habits like these can have a domino effect on all of the other questions we are going to look at. Aim to eat proper meals throughout the day or else you’ll be more likely to snack or binge on larger portions later in the day.

2- Considering why you are eating

Most people eat when they are hungry and this is certainly the basics of eating – we eat for fuel and ultimately to survive! But, if we consider this more carefully we can also eat to help supply our body with key nutrients, to support our blood sugar regulation, maintain a healthy body composition or, cherish the thought, – to actually enjoy the food?! We are lucky as in most cases we have a large range of different foods readily available to us which we should be able to enjoy, rather than simply to just fuel us through another day. Eating properly can actually help support our health; it’s when we become lazy with our eating habits that we can risk affecting our health.

3 - Considering where to eat

Nowadays, we see people eating everywhere. Whilst they are driving or on public transport, in the street, in shops, in the cinema or at their desk in work. If anything, dining tables are becoming a much less common place to find someone eating their latest meal – our grandparents would be horrified! Traditionally meals would be eaten at the dinner table, alongside our families to keep us company, near the kitchens where it was made fresh. It was very much a time where people came together to enjoy the food they had available to them. As this routine is lost, so are many of the other healthy habits that go along with it.

4 - Considering what to eat

In modern times, practically no matter where in the world we are, we have a range of cuisines available to us on our doorstep. As well as in the restaurants, we also have food available on every corner; in shops, petrol stations and train stations and it’s the convenience food which is often more problematic. Loaded with hidden carbs, sugar, fat and additives, if we are opting for this type of food, it’s most likely we aren’t in a very relaxed setting or state of mind! If you consider exactly what you are eating more often, you’re much more likely to be swayed towards healthier choices.

5 - Considering how to eat

People often don’t give how they eat a second thought; it’s often as quickly as possible whilst multi-tasking in one way or another. Here at A.Vogel we often talk about how to eat, and it’s an important part of mindful eating! Aim to chew each mouthful at least 20 times (if not more), sit up straight (sitting down being an important part of it), and actually aim to enjoy the foods you are eating – think of those flavours and textures with each mouthful! Eating this way will also mean you’re less likely to over eat or experience digestive issues as a result of wolfing down your latest meal.

In summary, mindful eating is considering all of these questions, or as many as you can, before sitting down to enjoy your meal. Considering when and where you’re going to enjoy your food, then savouring them. Enjoy the tastes and textures and the effects of good, nutritious food as it fuels your body, rather than eating robotically with no concept of what, why or how much you are eating! 

Mindful eating can become a long-term solution to better eating habits if we are more conscious of making it happen. It’s also a much simpler and more enjoyable experience than the latest fad diet - that’s for sure!

What does the science say when it comes to mindful eating?

Although we often know what’s right and wrong by the way our ancestors lived (they were very intuitive and set a great example), it’s always nice to have this backed up by some science.

A recent randomized control trial showed that 194 participant who were involved in a 5 month mindful eating programme had positive results on their blood glucose levels1. Interestingly, when compared to control subjects (who received a healthy eating regime but no mindfulness intervention), the results were still significant after 12 months, suggesting the better habits and subsequent health benefits were long-lasting too!

What’s my advice?

So, it seems that mindful eating could have been beneficial effects on our blood glucose responses which we know can contribute to cravings and can serve as starting point for a number of conditions including type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome. 

Now, here’s my take on it all as I show you how to make, simple, positive changes at home:

1 – Identify the problem times

It may not be practical to be mindful at every meal, but making small changes to your routines can make the world of difference. Whether it’s those TV dinners or working through lunch, identifying the problem times is often half the battle. Make more effort to take some time out to enjoy some of the meals you eat – especially if you’ve taken the time and effort to make it fresh you should really be able to enjoy it! Meals should genuinely be ‘meal time’ and most of us will find that you’re able to set a little more time aside for your meals. 

Even trips to the cinema or movie nights with friends can turn into mindless eating marathons when we become distracted, so rein it in a little and just try to be more aware of your portion sizes. This way treats can be really be treats – you can ensure they are actually enjoyable rather than leaving us feeling ill! Interestingly, studies have also shown that mindful eating can make treats even more enjoyable2 – a bonus all round!

2 – Employ some helpers

If you’re not quite sure where to start when it comes to eating more mindfully, we’re here to help. Some tips from me include the following: 

Get family and friends on board – eating with friends or family can help keep you on track when it comes to mindful eating. Making and enjoying meals in more sociable settings helps to make mealtimes more relaxed, but you can also chat in between which help ensure you eat slower, plus, you can kindly remind people to slow down if need be! 

Helpful herbs – if stress is an underlying problem affecting your eating habits then promoting more relaxation can help to encourage more mindful eating. AvenaCalm contains fresh Avena sativa extract, ideal for calming the symptoms of stress and anxiety and helping to keep pesky cravings at bay

Electronic helpers – if you need an extra helping hand to help you achieve your mindfulness goals, there are also lots of different apps and videos widely available. This means you can perfect your mealtimes and help get you used to feeling more relaxed and in control again.

3 - Enjoy the experience! 

Many years ago, meal times were a much bigger occasion than they often are now. People worked much harder to obtain food to feed their families and most people spent a much higher proportion of their income on it, so it was a much more momentous occasion having food to enjoy come dinner time. Nowadays, in many cases we take food for granted as it’s so readily available. If we are able to make the effort to eat more mindfully, we are much more likely to make healthier choices and benefit in both the short and long-term!

 

1. Mason AE, Epel ES and Kristeller J et al. Effects of a mindfulness-based intervention on mindful eating, sweets consumption, and fasting glucose levels in obese adults: data from the SHINE randomized controlled trial. J Behav Med, 2016, 39(2), (201-213)

2. Meier BP, Noll SW, and Molokwu OJ. The sweet life: The effect of mindful chocolate consumption on mood. Appetite, (2017)  108, (21-27).

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