Why how we eat is as important as what we eat
How often do we wolf down a meal in a rush out the door? How often do we eat at our desk working? Or eat while totally engrossed in watching TV or catching up on social media? Have you ever eaten a meal and been so distracted that when you discover you have a clean plate you can’t remember even eating it, never mind what it tasted like? What about mindless grazing or eating crap because you’re bored, tired, lonely (fill in the blank)?
Not being aware of how we’re eating (physically and emotionally) can impair digestion and can lead to over-eating which in turn can lead to digestive complaints, weight gain and an impaired immune system.
But there are three things you can do to improve digestion, boost your immune function and lose weight and it doesn’t include dieting!!
REST & DIGEST
First up, get your body out of the stressed ‘fight or flight’ mode and into ‘rest and digest’ mode as your body needs your mind to be calm in order to digest food properly. Don’t shove food in your mouth as you’re running out the door or eat while standing at the counter. Stop, sit down and take a few moments before you start your meal to take some deep relaxing belly breaths.
Put down your phone or device and turn off the TV so you can become present with what you are about to eat. And maybe offer some gratitude for the food that’s in front of you.
Sound impossible? I find putting my phone down really difficult but taking even a minute before you eat to take those few deep breaths, get present and de-stress can have a huge impact on your digestion.
CHEW, CHEW, CHEW AND THEN CHEW SOME MORE
Digestion begins in the mouth. Ever notice that even the sight or smell of food activates saliva in your mouth? That’s your body getting ready to digest! When you chew your food, you begin to break it down into smaller and smaller particles. Chewing signals to the rest of the body to begin the digestion process from saliva coating your food with enzymes, to the stomach producing acid etc. The more you chew, the less work your digestive system has to break down your food which leads to easier digestion.
Some people say you have to chew at least 18 times, 30 times etc. But who wants to count their chews? A good gauge would be to chew until your food becomes liquefied before swallowing if you can. This may feel like an absolute aaaaaage when you begin eating this way but over time it should become easier.
While mindfulness (or the art of being present) is usually associated with meditation, it can actually be applied to most activities, eating included. Being more mindful when you eat makes you slow down and become more aware of portion sizes, hunger cues, habits that may not be serving you and emotional mindset. For example being mindful can bring about more awareness of emotional eating (or not eating) as a way of coping with negative emotions or worries.
So how can you eat mindfully?
Mindful eating is about becoming present, engaging your senses – sight, smell, taste (texture) – and any physiological, emotional and psychological reactions you are having at that moment. When you eat, get curious and ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I engaging my senses or am I mindlessly eating?
- How does my body feel before, during and after I eat? Starving with a rumbling tummy? Low energy? Hangry? Anxious? Full?
- What are my feelings about this food and why am I eating it? Pleasure? Delight? Naughty? Guilty? Good? Bad? Comfort? Bored? Out of habit?
- What are the thoughts that are coming to mind when I eat this food? Does it trigger memories? What beliefs do I have about this food? Do I have any fears?
Awareness is the key. Becoming mindful can actually change the way you think and react to food. Over time you’ll come to trust your hunger cues, you’ll know what habits serve you and which ones don’t, you’ll intuitively know what portion size is actually right for you and what foods are right for you, you’ll be able to manage your emotions without food and you’ll know potential triggers that urge you to overeat / under eat / emotionally eat and you can respond to them.
Studies have shown that all this in turn can help with over eating and binge eating, can help people lose weight and can reduce anxious thoughts about food and your body. (1, 2, 3 below)
So three things – slowing down, becoming present and chewing – can have a big influence in achieving a healthy, happy, glow.
 Kristeller J. L. and R. Q. Wolever. 2011. “Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training for Treating Binge Eating Disorder: The Conceptual Foundation.” Eating Disorders. 19(1): 49-61.
Baer, R. A., S. Fischer, and D. B. Huss. 2005. “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Applied to Binge Eating: A Case Study.” Cognitive and Behavioral Practice 12: 351-358.
 Rawal, A., J. Enayati, M. Williams, and R. Park. 2009. “A Mindful Approach to Eating Disorders.” Healthcare Counseling & Psychotherapy Journal. 9(4): 16-20.
Proulx, K. 2008. “Experiences of Women with Bulimia Nervosa in a Mindfulness-Based Eating Disorder Treatment Group.” Eating Disorders. 16(1): 52-72.
Hepworth, N. S. 2011. “A Mindful Eating Group as an Adjunct to Individual Treatment for Eating Disorders: A Pilot Study.” Eating Disorders. 19(1): 6-16.
 Tapper, K., C. Shaw, J. Ilsley, A. J. Hill, F. W. Bond, and L. Moore. 2009. “Exploratory Randomised Controlled Trial of a Mindfulness-Based Weight Loss Intervention for Women.” Appetite. 52(2): 396-404.
Dalen J., B. W. Smith, B. M. Shelley, A. L. Sloan, L. Leahigh, and D. Begay. 2010. “Pilot Study: Mindful Eating and Living (MEAL): Weight, Eating Behavior, and Psychological Outcomes Associated with a Mindfulness-Based Intervention for People with Obesity.” Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 18(6): 260-4.
Framson, C., A. R. Kristal, J. M. Schenk, A. J. Littman, S. Zeliadt, and D. Benitez. 2009. “Development and Validation of the Mindful Eating Questionnaire.” Journal of American Dietetic Association. 1439-1444.