Our eating habits effect our psyche and, in turn, our psyche and emotions effect our food intake. Research has shown that food does not only serve a survival or nutritional function, but also plays a huge role in our emotional and psychological well-being. Despite this, most of us engage in reckless eating habits. Having a fast-paced lifestyle is often blamed for consuming food in a hurry, eating while standing and indulging in junk food. Yet, when time feels like it has taken a long stretch, leading to boredom and restlessness, our habits don’t get any better. Stress-eating and midnight binges, I’m talking about you. Time doesn’t seem to be the issue here, so what is the problem? The main propeller, like in most relationships, might well be misunderstanding, often caused by a communication problem. Between whom, you might ask? Between your mind and your body. And that’s where mindful eating comes in.
Mindfulness is the act of bringing one’s attention to the present moment, observing one’s thoughts and feelings without judgment. In Eckhart Tolle’s words, “Being in the here and now”. This psychological act, which has been empirically proven to alleviate feelings of stress, anxiety and depression, can be used to restructure our eating patterns while bettering our relationship with food. Some may associate the term “mindfulness” with some form of mysticism or new-age movement, making them shy away, but do not be disheartened! Mindful eating does not require you to sit still for an hour with a turban, staring at your food while suppressing your hunger. Rather, it entails small acts of purposeful attention which will enhance your eating experience, leaving you feeling full and satisfied – pleasing your mind and body.
One of the communication problems between our mind and body is that of misunderstanding feelings of boredom, stress, anxiety, sadness or loneliness, for hunger. Before deciding to nibble on something, observe your feelings. What is your body telling you? If your stomach is growling and your energy levels are low, it means your body needs nutritional fuel. However, absence of these physical sensations in place of needing to fill a “void” might indicate that you need to nurture your psyche rather than your body. Try to compensate for negative feelings by going for a walk, releasing tension through physical exercise, relaxing your mind through reading or tending to loneliness by reaching out to someone you trust.
While your food is cooking or you’re waiting for your Bolt delivery, prepare the area allocated for eating. On an oak dining table or sitting on the floor Japanese style, it does not really matter. What matters is that the environment induces relaxation – it is clutter free and calm. Many ancient traditions, including the Ayurvedic medicinal system, believe that we digest our emotions. It is therefore suggested to have a stress-free space to consume our food.
Stop – drop – engage
Your delicious dish is served – this means it is time to stop everything and give it your undivided attention. Momentarily disengage your brain from all your worries and focus on your meal. Eating while watching TV, answering emails or talking on the phone, do not allow us to fully engage with our food. This leads to our stomach getting full, but our brain not “registering” the food, which explains why we may eat a huge meal but still feel empty afterwards.
Re-learning how to eat
One of the most important aspects of changing our eating habits is training ourselves to eat mindfully. For those of us who are used to swallowing our food while putting on shoes, sending a text and scanning the room for our keys – alarming news! Eating a meal should take approximately 20 minutes. Yes, the same amount of time you would take to fulfil five different activities. Yet, that’s the time it takes for our brain to send out signals of fullness to our body. Eating slowly gives us enough time to feel full and satisfied, without seeking out the peanut butter tub on our way out the door.
One way to slow our eating is by taking bite-sized portions, allowing ourselves to slowly chew – appreciating the aroma, feeling the texture and savouring the taste. How often do we eat something we know should be amazing but fail to experience the taste due to being distracted? Our minds are often too busy contemplating past events or stressing about future ones. Bringing our attention into the present moment and engaging with our food, allows our brain and body to connect and communicate effectively.
No #food coma
When you are done from your meal, give yourself a couple of minutes to appreciate the food you ate. Being grateful allows us to end the meal in a positive mood and a calm mind while allowing the food to settle. The impulse to binge-eat is gone, so you do not have to deal with a discomforting food coma or food baby as often lamented about on social media.
Mindful eating helps us make healthier food choices by being more connected to ourselves and knowing what our body needs. Remember, the aim is not to force the mind to be quiet, but to connect to the stillness that already resides within. A very common exercise which is done when introducing mindful eating is that of eating a raisin mindfully (this is an example). If you find it difficult to kick start these habits, do not be discouraged, as many online resources are available to help you get a grip on this powerful, meditative tool.