Engage with your senses, enjoy your food more, snack less and even lose weight by mastering mindful eating
Can you remember all the vegetables that were on your plate at dinner? Or the ingredients that you cooked with? We often get so distracted by the world around us that we forget to slow down at mealtimes. Inviting mindfulness into our everyday routines can help us bring back our awareness, curb snacking, limit overeating, improve digestion and help us relish our food even more. “Some people assume mindful eating is way out of reach and you have to sit down and have a meal where nobody talks to each other,” says Rachel Bartholomew, nutritionist and author (rachelbartholomew. co.uk). “Really, it’s bringing your awareness back to the eating experience and training your mind to become more present. It’s only from this place that you can start to change your eating habits.” Here’s our how-to guide on becoming more mindful.
The only way to understand our relationship with food is to spend time with that relationship, as Rachel explains. “Ask yourself how are you eating?” Are you sitting at a table, or at your desk? Are you relaxed, or stressed? That’s a good lead step to bringing awareness back.” If you reach for a glass of wine after a stressful day, or head to the biscuit tin when you’re feeling emotional, these actions show that you make food decisions that are influenced by external factors other than hunger. Creating a log or a journal is an easy way to start understanding what your triggers are.
Our minds are susceptible to both emotion and habit. Taking the time to slow down and stop ourselves from cruising into autopilot mode can take as little as five seconds, but is hugely beneficial. “Build in a pause point before you start a meal or reach for a snack,” advises Rachel. “Take two or three deep belly breaths before you pick up your knife and fork, and that will activate part of your nervous system that puts you in the rest and digest phase. It’s important to give your body signals to initiate those digestive processes. Slowly taking a few sips of water can be another useful pause point to stop you from reaching for something unconsciously,” says Rachel. “If you’re not sure, have a sip of water. If you feel hungry, then go for it.”
‘Chew your food properly’, is a command that a lot of us are familiar with, but it rings true regardless of your age. “Chewing is an important part of the digestive process,” says Rachel. “It may seem a little strange at first, but try and notice the production of saliva in your mouth. It will help you become more connected to what’s happening in your body. Once you’ve noticed it, your mouth produces even more, aiding that digestive process even further. It’s very much about noticing what’s happening in your body.”
One of the great elements of mindfulness is that it allows us to remove distractions, such as a blaring TV or an email inbox full of unread messages, and sit uninterrupted with our food and family. By doing this, we begin to take our time over a meal. “Bringing food back to the table is so important,” says Rachel. “Think about your meal hygiene in the same way you would think about your sleep hygiene. Create an environment that will help to bring more awareness to your plate, such as having no phones at the table, not watching TV and pausing before you start a meal.”
If you’re going to get rid of something, then it can be a good idea to try and replace it with something else. This is where rituals can come into play. “Your body is very responsive to environmental cues and changes,” says Rachel. “Even small actions, such as setting the table, can signal to your body that a meal is coming and can help to get the digestive juices flowing. If you’re distracted by something else, then your body isn’t as ready for it as it could be. So implement positive actions as much as you can.”
Once we get a handle on our thoughts and emotions around food, we weaken its hold over us. However, that doesn’t mean we should beat ourselves up if we occasionally overeat, or forget create a pause point before a meal. “Being kinder and compassionate with yourself is an important part of mindfulness,” says Rachel. “Try not to feel too concerned if you’re struggling to implement changes. Once you’ve achieved one thing, it becomes a lot easier to think ‘what can I do next?’”
Taste Think about the flavours in your mouth. Are they sweet, salty, spicy or bland? What specific ingredients can you taste? Are the elements on the plate complementing each other?
Texture How are you eating your food? With your hands, chopsticks, or a knife and fork? How does it feel? Crunchy or soft? Hot or cold?
See Take a moment to observe the colours on your plate. What really stands out to you?
Smell What’s the first smell that hits you? What ingredients are really standing out?
Hear You can start this before your food even hits the plate. Can you hear it sizzling or simmering? Once you have it in your mouth, listen out for a crunch.
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