Changing How You Eat Could Benefit Your Mental Health
In a society seemingly obsessed with health and wellness, dieting presents a controversial discussion between generations. While many young people reject traditional “diet culture”, numerous people are still plagued by its potentially harmful effects – including low self-esteem, negative associations with food and overall poor mental health.
Eating is an essential time in everyone’s day when we get the opportunity to refuel, excite our taste buds and consume the necessary nutrients needed for optimum well-being. Unfortunately, many people have a challenging relationship with food, which presents differently for each individual.
In today’s society, as more people work remotely or become overwhelmed by a fast-paced lifestyle, eating, while a necessity, feels like a bit of a burden. Thus, you may find yourself eating lunch at your desk, eating while you work, eating on the go to avoid wasting time or even watching Netflix while you enjoy dinner. Mindfulness is proven to aid mental health in various ways; mindful eating is one technique ideal for those living on autopilot and wanting to reconnect. This article explores the concept of eating mindfully, what it is, what it isn’t, the potential benefits, and how to incorporate it into your lifestyle.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating means having the intention to pay attention during mealtimes. As the name suggests, it stems from mindfulness practices, which mean you pay attention to the sensory experience as well as the thoughts, feelings and physical sensations that arise during this time. For instance, while eating mindfully, one may notice the food’s taste, smell, texture, and appearance while checking in with thoughts, hunger levels, and fullness.
Mindful eating is not a diet, or a punishment, nor does it promote restrictive behaviour. Instead, it encourages you to accept what is and witness the whole experience without judgement. It also differs from intuitive eating, a framework created by dietitians in 1995 to develop a kinder relationship with one’s food and body. In fact, many mindfulness activities, like this attention-based practice, dates back thousands of years to Hindu and Buddhist cultures.
Mindfulness during mealtimes simply means being present with the experience and removing judgement. In an article with Calm, dietitian Rachael Hartley said, “Mindful eating is about nonjudgmental awareness. Instead, cultivate curiosity over what arises.” For anyone interested in mindful eating, the most meaningful aspect is self-kindness and non-judgement for sensations, thoughts, or emotions that come up for you.
What are the Benefits of Mindful Eating?
May reduce symptoms of IBS
Some sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) find mindful eating helps them enjoy mealtimes more. While it isn’t a fix-all solution, mindful eating may help people notice their discomfort, accept it and be present with it. In this way, some people with IBS find this mindfulness technique helps reduce psychological distress when their symptoms arise.
May aid in eating disorder recovery
Eating disorders are complex and varied; thus, it’s important to visit a professional if you feel you may be suffering. While more research is needed, one 2012 study by Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention suggests mindfulness may help people struggling with a binge eating disorder. The participants who took part in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) reported increased self-awareness and improved food behaviours. This research showcases the potential of mindful eating in eating disorder recovery as it helps people tune into the experience without becoming consumed in the thoughts and feelings that arise.
Nurtures a better relationship with food
Mindful eating may nurture a forgotten component of eating – pleasure. As you practise being present while you’re eating, you may strengthen your relationship with food, understand your likes and dislikes better, and feel more connected to the moment. Creating a curious and positive association with eating can go far toward protecting your mental well-being. Instead of rushing your meal, eating absentmindedly or shaming your eating habits, mindful eating invites you to accept the moment for what it is and savour the sensory experience.
How to Practice Eating Mindfully?
Eating mindfully will look different for everyone, but in essence, it is a simple practice. While diet culture is entangled with shame and restrictions, people who practise mindful eating cultivate a sense of peace, self-compassion and even joy. It teaches you to start accepting the present moment, the food on your plate, and the sensations or thoughts that arise and instead be curious about what you may find.
In this way, this mindfulness technique allows life to take place. So, for people who must eat at their desk, eat on the go, or while their children are running around, mindful eating simply asks you to notice your circumstance without judgement and savour the experience in its entirety.
On a practical note, you may turn off distractions, like phones, TVs or radios. If it’s available to you, try to slow the pace you eat, savour each bite and focus on the taste you’re experiencing. In the same way, some people enjoy taking deep breaths after a few mouthfuls to make sure they are still living in the present moment. Slowing down and limiting the number of distractions will help you tune into your senses and notice automatic thoughts or emotions that arise. In this state of mindfulness, you may even discover something new.
A Healthy Diet as an Act of Self-Compassion
Instead of punishing ourselves by eating bland and unenjoyable foods in the name of ‘health’, mindful eating means tasting and appreciating the food we eat. A simple way to do this is to eat a variety of whole foods (or minimally processed foods) that you enjoy as much as possible. If you enjoy fruits, eat fruits and appreciate the colours and tang. Add healthy herbs and flavourings to your foods like cinnamon and ginger and notice how they dance on your tastebuds.
If fizzy drinks like sodas are your thing, you can find healthy alternatives like sparking spirulina drinks from Ful. Spirulina is also naturally energising, so it can double up as one of the best caffeine alternatives. This is a perfect time to get creative and learn to love food again.
Mindfulness has proven popular over the last decade and has become a more widely accepted form of self-care. Mindful eating is one way to cultivate a better relationship with food and become more present with your thoughts about eating. There isn’t a correct way to eat mindfully; rather, the intention to eat with a greater sense of awareness is the key.
Often this involves slowing down, taking deep breaths between eating, and reducing distractions in your environment. Mindfulness may weave its way into many facets of life, and so you may decide to savour more moments in your day, from mealtimes, enjoying a cup of coffee, sitting in nature or your journey to work.