Food is essential for survival but as Jackie Hillegers discovers, it can also help with mental health by being more mindful of how we eat, when we eat.
Cooler air, flu season and early sunsets reminds us that winter is calling for us to slow down and seek warmth and nourishment. Not only do colder evenings encourage us to snuggle up, we also tend to move less and eat more.
We mainly eat when we are hungry – our body gives us signals such as hunger pains, low energy or feeling faint. We also tend to use eating as a habit when we are under stress, feeling depressed or even lonely.
Processed or fast foods taste amazing at first but they often have a higher salt, sugar and fat content and tend to make you hungry again quicker.
Mindful eating can help you make healthier food and snack choices, reduce your binge eating habits and nourish your body and mind. It’s about paying full attention to what and when we eat, being aware of our eating habits, food choices, portion sizes and cravings.
Mindful eating takes us off autopilot and allows us to notice when we are eating and for what purpose.
Being fully attentive to each step in the food process is important – from buying food stage to eating it. Buy more consciously for nutrition and not emotion, do not buy groceries on an empty stomach (as we tend to buy more), purchase smaller packets or amounts of treats so you can enjoy their quality and not quantity and have containers of fruit and vege sticks on hand in the fridge.
It takes approximately 20 minutes to feel full once you start eating so keep that in mind while slowing down the time it takes you to eat. Mindful eating has little to do with calories, carbs, protein etc and more to do with the experience and enjoyment of the food.
Have you ever watched an addictive movie and when it is over, the entire bag of chips is empty, even though you only planned to eat a handful! You must have been on auto-pilot.
Being fully aware of what we are eating – and how much – can help curb those bad habits and improve our health.
Mindful eating promotes better digestion, reduces heartburn, improves heart health and keeps you full with less food. It can also lead to weight loss, cut down on cravings and bring a greater awareness of your moods (hangry anyone?!). Remember it is more about enjoying your food and the process than a quick fix to fill your tummy or fulfil your craving.
Implementing mindful eating is a great time to try new foods, make the farmer markets part of your weekly schedule and talk to others about food ideas and food choices. Choose to eat in restaurants where the food has been prepared with passion and served with love.
When we make small changes in our lives it has a ripple effect on everything, including our physical and mental health. Isn’t it worth creating a more positive relationship with food, as it can provide us with both fuel and fun?
Try a few of these Mindful eating ideas:
- Pretend you are on a cooking show and judge the taste, texture etc of your food
- Be aware of what and how much you eat
- Engage in your 5 senses before, during and after a meal
- Eat slowly, you can even close your eyes to concentrate on its enjoyment
- Take small bites and chew each mouthful thoroughly
- Learn to differentiate between mood eating and hunger
- Be aware of where your food comes from – local and fresh are best
- Appreciate your food and be thankful for each meal
- Eat without the distraction of devices
- Enjoy your food in the present moment
- Keep nuts or dried food on-hand for when you are stressed
MINDFUL EATING TASK
- Take a raisin or cranberry and view it as if you have never seen one before
- Study its texture between your fingers and feel its weight, size, shape etc
- How does the outer skin respond when you press on it
- How does it smell and what colours do you see?
- Pop it in your mouth without eating it
- Run your tongue over its surface
- Roll the raisin with your tongue and press it against the roof of your mouth
- Slowly bite off a corner and extract any taste being aware of its flavour
- Take your time by eating it slowly and enjoying it mindfully
- Feel gratitude for all the people involved in the process of delivering your raisin. (From planting, picking, manufacturing, packaging and selling)