In today's face-paced, food-abundant and tech-savvy environment, eating with intent is a practice many of us have become out of touch with.
We often inhale food (chew, swallow, chew, swallow), while scrolling through Facebook, typing away at the desk, chilling with Netflix or juggling one of the many balls we do. Before we know it, we've mindlessly demolished half a packet of biscuits – and for some, this may lead to feelings of guilt or negative self-talk, impacting our relationship with food.
Mindful eating is a practice that inherently helps counter mindless eating. It’s centred around eating with intention and truly taking the time to sit and enjoy a meal. It not only assists with building a healthier relationship with food, but also helps with appetite regulation and supporting digestion. It does this by teaching us to focus on physical cues to dictate dietary choices (such as the body's hunger signals or a comfortable feeling of fullness after a meal) rather than other drivers i.e. emotions, mood or external environmental cues.
It also involves an element of gratitude – being thankful for the plate of goodness in front of us, the energy and nutrients it will provide our body, for the farmers and growers who grew it, and how fortunate we are to have access to it.
If you’re interested to learn more, here are some tips for being a more mindful eater:
Eat without distraction
This one’s a biggie. When it's mealtime, take a break from whatever you're doing and focus on the plate in front of you. Try turning off your screen, putting away your phone, and being present when you eat. Use your senses – look at what you're eating, smell it, taste it and really chew it. You'll notice a greater appreciation or your food when you take the time to savour it. Notice the tartness of an apple or the sweetness of strawberries – simply paying attention to the flavours of food is a great place to start when mindful eating.
Eating slowly and mindfully carries a wealth of potential health benefits too. By slowing down and taking time to chew your food (10-15 bites or mouthful at least) we help our brains recognise feelings of fullness quicker, making us less inclined to overeat. Chewing our food properly also aids proper digestion – remember there are no teeth beyond the stomach.
Check in with yourself
Learning to recognise non-hunger triggers for eating, such as stress or boredom, is an important step in combating mindless eating. By recognising what may contribute to and drive dietary habits, we're able to approach the situation with more perspective, observe our thoughts, and respond more accordingly. Check in with yourself, and ask "am I really hungry? Or is something else going on? How am I feeling?". If stress or certain emotions are driving you to eat, it's important to find ways of relaxing that don't involve food. You could try incorporating more restorative exercises into your week, practise belly-breathing, having a friend or family member to vent to, or taking a bath.
Be gentle on yourself
Okay, so you mindlessly over-ate and now you feel guilty. Don't hold on to it, just let it go! Our health is a collective sum of what we do, and our bodies can handle indulgence now and then – it's when these habits become a regular occurrence that issues may arise. Our thoughts are powerful, affecting us both psychologically and physiologically, so if you slip up don't beat yourself up or throw your eating habits out the window for the rest of the day – simply ‘get back on that horse’ at your next meal. Remember, mindful eating isn't about discipline, willpower or extreme concentration . It's about enjoying, appreciating and focusing on the food in front of you.
Danijela Unkovich is a nutritionist and blogger at Healthy Always, where she shares recipe ideas and wellness inspiration.