12 6 steps to mindful eating
 
 

6 steps to mindful eating

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Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@emmatalkshealth
@EmmaThornton
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16 February 2021

6 steps to mindful eating

Did you know that more mindful eating could help benefit everything from your digestion, to your mental wellbeing, and even your body weight? Here I explain how to implement these practices in 6 easy steps:

  1. Chew well
  2. Eat slowly
  3. Eat fresh
  4. Eat with your eyes
  5. Plan your meals
  6. Enjoy your food

I explain exactly how to put these steps into practice so you can become an expert at mindful eating, and reap the benefits too.

What exactly is mindfulness?

Technically, mindfulness is a gentle form of meditation in which the you aim to become more 'aware' of your surroundings. Much like the 5,4,3,2,1 technique for calming anxiety, it aims to put you in the moment, helping you become more aware of your immediate surroundings, focusing on and making the most of the positives around you.

Why mindful eating?

Mindfulness can be practised more generally and it has helped thousands of people to live more intentionally and develop the skills necessary to manage various conditions including chronic pain, depression and sleeping problems. Mindful eating is an approach to eating that fulfils the criteria necessary in changing one's overall approach to eating and, as a nutritionist, I'm a particular fan of it. This means practising mindfulness, and more specifically in regards to your food shopping, meal planning, cooking and, of course, eating!

Diets often fail because you can become too focused on the 'rules of eating' and are outcome focused rather than process-oriented, like mindful eating. With mindful eating, you focus on the process and it can help you savour the moment, your food, and encourage your full presence in order to enhance the whole eating experience. The main focus is not to lose weight, although it is highly likely that those who adopt this style of eating will also lose weight, because with a mindful approach, the person's choices often are to eat less, enjoy the flavours, and select foods consistent with desirable health benefits.

Mindful eating isn't just for fun, of course, as research is starting to suggest it could also have an array of lovely health benefits including; benefits on digestion, improvements in mental health and benefits on body composition, including weight loss.1

Re-establishing pride in our food and really enjoying every mouthful is something that we should work on. Unfortunately, this is something that has been lost, almost beyond recognition, by many. Nowadays, the average percentage of income spent on food in the UK is amongst one of the lowest in the EU. This is a gradual decline that has happened over some years.2

Nowadays, eating is also often done as quickly as possible and barely even noticed amongst the barrage of screens and other distractions we have going on. In order to get back to healthy, helpful eating, we need to take some time and effort to focus on and enjoy cooking as well as eating.

How can you implement mindful eating?

1. Chew well

The first step towards eating mindfully is chewing well. Chewing is automatic and everyone knows how to do it, right? Well, the fact that it's so automatic might just be the problem! Most of us tend to chew far too quickly and not anywhere near as thoroughly as we should. Chewing well means chewing each mouthful for at least 20 chews. Practically, this will help to support your digestion, improve satiety (fullness) and allow for better absorption of nutrients from your food.

From a mindfulness point of view, chewing well gives you more time to enjoy your food by noticing every last flavour and texture rather than bolting it down and barely letting it touch the sides of your mouth – where's the appreciation in that?

Handily, chewing properly also gives us more time to breathe. As mindfulness stems from a form of meditation, it is important to put attention on this. Breathing in between mouthfuls can help you relax further and really get into the 'rest and digest'state that your body needs in order to benefit from the food and digest it thoroughly. For more on the importance of chewing, watch my self-care video below.

My Self-Care Tip: Chew well in order to be mindful

Here I explain why chewing is not only beneficial for digestion, but also an important part of mindful eating.

2. Eat slowly

This step and chewing really go hand-in-hand but, still, my advice is to consciously take more time over your meals. By slowing your meals right down, you can experience lots of benefits that you might not have been used to getting.

There are some key benefits - the enjoyment factor is one (we'll go into this in a little more detail further on in the blog) and the other one is how much you eat, as well as patterns of hunger and satiety. For many of us, bolting our food down too quickly can leave us feeling fuller than we'd like. For some, this can go on to scupper meals later in the day, meaning we can get into an unhelpful pattern of eating too much or too little, for much of the time.

By eating slowly and purposefully you can learn to become more aware of your body's natural signals that tell you to stop eating before you become overly full. This can have benefits on not only your body composition, but also mental wellness. For example, for those who may struggle with feeling guilty after episodes of overeating. Healthier habits can be encouraged all round with something so simple!

3. Eat Fresh

Whilst mindful eating is in no way a strict diet plan, it can help to get you into healthier routines which will ultimately have their benefits on areas such as body weight. There are no radical changes involved, just simple changes of focus and slowing down and switching your mindset to a more positive one when it comes to food.

As part of mindful eating, considering what you are putting into your body and what effects this may have on your health are all important. This is why eating healthy fresh foods, and cooking your own food as much as possible, are such an important part of it. The self-satisfaction from the cycle of cooking your own food, enjoying eating it, plus benefiting health-wise shouldn't be underestimated.

Recently, lockdown has had a bit of a negative impact on food security. For some, it manifested through panic buying. and stocking up on shelf-stable, processed food items.3 Unfortunately, these are the very types of foods that are more likely to encourage mindless eating, as people don't tend to take so much pride in them and simply eat them to fuel themselves rather than their nutritional values.

Whilst the current situation is hard to control, mindful eating, to some degree, can still be implemented for most. Even if you're able to make a delicious meal from scratch just once daily, marvel at the ingredients you've put together into a meal. When you focus and mindfully choose to take your time in eating one thing over another, it could make all the difference.


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4. Eat with your eyes

Once you've mastered the 'eat fresh' part – you can't not eat with your eyes!

Embrace eating with all your senses. Cooking helps with this part, of course, as you can watch your meal come together with all the delicious aromas and sights heightening all your senses in anticipation of tucking in (another practice which will also help to prime your digestion!)

So, I urge you to enjoy every detail of your food, including the odd treat too. Don't feel guilty if you indulge in some chocolate or a cake. Again, just savour the different flavours and textures and really focus on enjoying it rather than worrying about calories or feeling guilty. This, of course, is likely to be even more satisfying if it's a homemade treat you're tucking into!

5. Plan your meals

Planning your meals can help to establish mindful habits. If we plan ahead and decide what we're going to eat, it's likely we'll make a conscious effort to be healthier. Plus, feeling more organised, not to mention being more cost-effective, can have positive effects on our mindset too.

Then, when it comes to the meals themselves, a bit of planning around this, and setting some new routines, can also be helpful. Limit distractions (particularly screens) so that you're able to get invested in your food instead. Also, set up a space that's dedicated to meals, such as a table and chair, so that you can begin to associate this area with food - rather than the sofa or even bed, which are naturally connected with other activities.

Eating with other people can also be a nice tactic to make it a more social, generally happier time (chatting in between mouthfuls will mean you've got 'slowing down' mastered without even trying!). This is a particularly nice habit to include children in as well.

6. Enjoy your food

My final point ties all the others together nicely – enjoy your food. Stressors risk taking over the enjoyment of eating, so we need to focus on making that our aim once again.

Of course, employing some of the habits above can really help to up the enjoyment, such as cooking your own food and really taking time over eating it, but much of this is on switching the mindset and taking the time to focus on and appreciate the food that is in front of you.

Focus on the positives that the food will bring you. Why not make note of your energy levels, or any other health improvements you notice if you're able to include more goodness in your diet, going forward? Water is another one to include in this. The benefits of feeling hydrated can be the biggest incentive to keep doing what you're doing. Remember, it's the simple pleasures!

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5556586/
  2. https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/products-eurostat-news/-/DDN-20191209-1
  3. https://translational-medicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12967-020-02399-5

 

Reviewed and approved by Professor Margareta James.

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