EDITION: February - April 2013

Eating mindfully

By Ruth Osborn
Mindful eating means considering what we eat, why we eat, how we eat and the effect of what we eat on both our body and the environment. Eating mindfully is a powerful tool for our health and well being, and can assist in weight loss and weight management. Like all good habits it needs to be developed but the time we invest will be rewarded with a lifetime of better health, improved weight control and increased appreciation for the goodness of food.

At your next meal remove all distractions including phones, television and laptops. Focus on eating. You will gain more satisfaction from your food when you take the time to appreciate it.   

Food provides our bodies with the energy and nutrients it needs for life, growth and repair. However not all eating serves these goals as we often eat when we are stressed, bored or as a reward. Also many of our social celebrations revolve around food and excuses to over indulge. Such eating can have a negative impact on our health and hinder weight loss efforts. Being aware of why we eat is the first step to changing any unhelpful eating behaviour.

Before eating ask yourself if you are genuinely hungry or eating for some other reason. Remember that the only thing that eating will solve is hunger. It will not mend a broken heart or solve a stressful situation. Try going for a walk or calling a friend instead.  

Supermarkets are full of cereals, sauces, fizzy drinks, snacks, frozen pizzas and ready meals that tempt us with the promise of “convenience”. Many of these products are not manufactured with our health as priority. Casting a critical healthy eye over any product before you buy it is essential. By being more aware of what is in the food we eat we can make better decisions about what to eat so that we choose foods that will promote health. Better still buy fresh produce over products. We can all practice eating more whole foods than packaged products. We can buy lettuce, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes instead of a pre-packed salad. Choose whole potatoes instead of oven chips and porridge oats instead of boxed cereal.  

Next time you’re grocery shopping take the time to consider each item and choose food that nourishes your body. Ask yourself – What is it? Where did it come from? Is it a naturally occurring food or is it a product? What is in it? Choose products with five ingredients or less and avoid ingredients we do not recognise.  

We often eat on the go, in the car, while working or surfing the web. These distractions make it easy to eat more than we need without even realising it, when we focus on eating we feel full sooner. Another simple way to improve our health is to chew our food properly. The process of digestions begins in the mouth where enzymes start to break down the food. If we don’t chew properly it increases the stress on our digestive system. Taking more time to chew our food also helps us to eat more slowly, allowing our body time to feel full and avoid over eating.  

When you eat sit down in a calm environment, take time to appreciate your food, eat slowly and chew each mouthful at least twenty times. While you’re enjoying each bite think about the benefits of the food you are eating. Make this a habit by scheduling one mindful eating meal a day.

Thinking about the effect food has on our bodies can also help us make healthier choices. Food provides carbohydrates, fats and proteins – the macronutrients our body needs for energy and to build and repair tissue. It also supplies vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients that keep our cells and organs functioning correctly. Many common diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are nutritionally related. Changing the way we eat has a profound impact on our total health and can help us avoid many of these diseases.

Hippocrates advised: ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’. Before you put something in your mouth think about what is in it and what it will do to your body. Is it a source of good nutrition including vitamins, minerals, unsaturated fats, complex carbohydrates or protein? Or is it full of sugar and/or saturated or trans-fats that will harm your body?  

Eating mindfully also means considering how our food choices impact the environment as well as our bodies. Being aware of where our food comes from, choosing to buy food that comes in little or no packaging, buying local produce and buying fruits and vegetables in season helps reduce the harm that food production does to the environment. It also helps support small businesses and boosts our local economies. All of which enhances our wellbeing as members of the wider community. By making mindful decisions about how, what and why we eat we help shape better food choices for the future. •

To learn more about mindful eating go to www.savorthebook.com or read “Mindful Eating, Mindful Life: Savor Every Moment and Every Bite” by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung.