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The Benefits of Mindful Eating for Your Health
For a long time whenever I heard the term Mindful Eating I was reminded of my Grandmother calling out to us grandkids: “Mind. M-I-N-D what you’re doing!”, because the milkshakes and cookies she’d just brought out were about to end up on the floor. In her own way, Grandma had begun teaching me about Mindful Eating.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful Eating is learning to pay attention to the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that come up with the food we choose to eat. It’s as much about how we eat as what we eat.
Without realising we’re doing so, most of us eat unconsciously. Wolfing down food without tasting it, let alone enjoying it.
Mindful Eating is not a diet and there are no restrictions. It’s a mentality that helps you use your senses to create an awareness of what you’re feeling physically, emotionally or mentally, before, during and after the food you choose to eat or drink.
When we eat mindfully, we not only gain more pleasure, energy, and nourishment from our food, by choosing foods that are both pleasing and nourishing, we also fire up our metabolism in a way that encourages weight loss if that’s something your body needs.
And all it requires is taking the time to slow down enough to:
• Engage your senses when choosing what to eat and notice how your food looks, feels, smells and tastes
• Choose, prepare and cook your meals with intention
• Pay attention to how you feel in response to different foods
• Realize the cues your body sends you when eating, and to use them to know when to stop
Health Risks of Unhealthy Eating Habits
What happens when we don’t engage in Mindful Eating and we continue with unhealthy eating habits? Just like the amount of food we’ll continue to unconsciously shovel into our mouths, the health risks can add up quickly.
When we overeat unhealthy foods, or engage in habits that cause us to consistently eat food that is overly processed or contains large amounts of sugar, refined vegetable fats, salt, additives, colourings, and preservatives, we increase our risk of the following:
• Insulin resistance and Diabetes
• Heart disease and stroke
• High blood pressure
• Different Cancers
• Digestive Issues
• Depression and Anxiety
• Impaired Fertility
• Low energy and fatigue
• Inability to concentrate and keep focused
• Bloating and puffiness
• Acne and eczema
• Tooth decay
Benefits of Mindful Eating
The benefits of Mindful Eating are numerous and start from the knock-on effects of the healthier eating habits that are created through this practice. By being attentive to how and what we eat, as well as the circumstances that trigger us to eat in certain ways, we get to enjoy the following benefits:
1) Weight Loss and Easier Weight Management
Mindful Eating teaches us how to:
• eat only when we’re hungry and stop when satiated – it shows us the difference between hungry and non-hungry eating and gives your stomach time to signal your brain you’re full
• savor and enjoy the taste of healthy food and realise that unhealthy food isn’t as tasty as we think, nor does it make us feel good
• ask questions such as “Will this food benefit my body?”
• eat more slowly and cultivate a stronger metabolism
And as a result of these points, we stop overeating, shed unwanted pounds and more easily fit into our favourite clothes.
2) Reduced Binge Eating & Easier Processing of Emotions
Mindful Eating helps us to identify the unhealthy habits and emotional issues we might have around food by changing our eating behaviours and reducing stress.
It teaches us the skills we need to deal with emotional and behavioral impulses.
Mindful Eating slows us down and gives us the time to consciously respond, instead of acting without thinking. We learn to ask ourselves questions like “Why am I reaching for this when I’m not hungry?” instead of suddenly finding ourselves with an empty packet of cookies in our hands.
3) Fewer Food Cravings
Mindful Eating teaches us how to eat with awareness and tune into the subtle signals our body sends us relating to food hunger.
Instead of eating for other reasons such as boredom; wanting to eat simply because it’s a certain time of day; others are eating and it feels good to join in, or to deal with particular emotions.
And while there’s nothing wrong with doing any of these things, by practicing Mindful Eating we become more aware of the reasons behind our food cravings and then make better choices. For example, calling a friend for a reassuring chat instead of finding solace in the bottom of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.
4) Better Digestion
Ever feel uncomfortable and bloated after a meal or snack? Chances are you either ate too quickly, took in a lot of air, or ate something that doesn’t work so well for you.
Slowing your eating and becoming present with each bite means taking in less air and chewing your food, making it far easier to digest. As well as becoming familiar with what feels good to your stomach and what doesn’t.
5) Improved Nutrient Absorption
When we eat mindfully we tend to chew our food more thoroughly, making the food easier to digest and the food’s nutrients more efficiently and effectively absorbed.
When we swallow our food whole, which tends to happen when we’re not present and eating while watching TV, eating while talking, or eating while working, the body has to work harder to digest it, making it unlikely that the food’s nutrients will be absorbed.
6) Heightened Recognition of How Food Truly Tastes
Many of us are preconditioned to think junk food is tasty and healthy food isn’t. But when we take the time to place our full attention on eating, flavours begin jumping out at you as they truly are.
By taking the time to sit down to eat, and be fully present, instead of fragmenting our awareness between any one of a number of different devices, we get to fully experience that food.
This means you might be astonished at just how good a home-cooked meal tastes and a little shocked at just how unsatisfying that take-out tastes.
And guess what else? When you begin to enjoy your eating experiences more, you begin to enjoy life more.
7) Learn How Food Affects Your Mood and Energy
Mindful Eating gives you the skills to recognise what foods boost and fuel your mood and energy throughout any given day.
It teaches you how to tune into what you are feeling before, during and after eating so you can eat more of what make you feel good and less of what doesn’t.
8) Social Overeating Becomes Less Of a Problem
When we learn to eat mindfully we can learn to become more present in all aspects of our life. Mindful Eating means being present with the people we’re socialising with as well as being conscious of when and what we’re eating, so we’re less likely to overeat.
9) More Appreciation and Enjoyment of the Present Moment
Mindful Eating gives you the time to appreciate where your food comes from and the effort it takes to make its way onto your plate. By taking the time to express gratitude for our food, where it came from, the time taken to prepare it and the flavours and textures it brings it our senses, we get to fully appreciate and enjoy the gift that food is.
10) Self Trust Around Food
Who else would love the ability to have their favourite treats in the house without them having to be under lock and key? Part of the beauty of Mindful Eating is enjoying the ability to trust yourself to make the best choices no matter how many options are in front of you.
Now that we have a better understanding of the benefits Mindful Eating bring us, who’s ready to learn how to practice Mindful Eating? Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon: How to Master Mindful Eating for Better Health (link to the part two)
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