More and more, we realize that healthy eating is not only about what we eat, but also how we eat. Often by reading that a certain food is not good, that a certain diet is better than another, that we should or should not eat at a certain time, we no longer recognize what our body needs. It's also easy to snack when distracted or to deal with an emotion.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is paying attention to the experience at hand without judgment. Mindful eating is the act of eating with attention to the food and how our bodies feel. For example, if I finish my bag of popcorn while I’m completely absorbed in the 10th and last episode of my favourite show, I did not eat it mindfully. My attention was focused elsewhere than on my eating experience.
Mindful eating is a technique that can help us reconnect with our needs.
Here are 5 tips to help you reconnect with the signals your body is sending you.
1. Putting aside distractions
It's been proven that when we eat while distracted, we tend to eat more than we need and are less satisfied. By focusing on what's on our plate, we can actually enjoy the meal in its entirety, which then allows us to move on without constantly thinking about food (and thus, snacking less).
Do the test! Turn off the TV, put your phone away. Pay attention to your meal. Is it hard to stay focused? Like everything else, mindful eating is something you can practice, and it gets easier with time. Also, it may not always be possible, and that's okay! Without judgment. Observe how you feel after a distracted meal and after a fully enjoyed meal. When do you feel best?
2. Slow down
Our body needs about 20 minutes to send a signal to the brain that it has received enough food. There are many benefits to eating slowly, both physiological and psychological. Among other things, it allows us to :
- Recognize our physical signals: eating slowly allows us to feel when we are full.
- Helps digestion: eating slowly gives our digestive system time to digest properly, thus limiting discomfort after the meal (e.g.: bloated belly).
- Increases meal satisfaction: by taking more time to savour the food, we feel more satisfied. This break also allows you to slow down and help reduce stress.
Putting down utensils between bites, or taking a few breaths is a concrete way to eat more slowly.
3. Taste as if it were the first time
Like a child discovering food for the first time, take the time to experience your meal. Concentrate on the taste, the texture, the aromas, the pleasure that the food gives you... Use all your senses!
Savouring what you eat allows you to feel more satisfied after your meal, thus reducing the desire to snack later. One way to do this is to imagine yourself as a "professional wine taster". If you had to describe your food, what would you say? What colour does the food have, what does it smell like, what does it taste like?
For example, if I enjoy a chocolate muffin with a glass of a2 milk™, I may find the muffin too sweet or not sweet enough. I might also notice flavours other than chocolate, such as cinnamon or hazelnut. I might notice that the muffin is chewy, or that there is some crunch (nuts or chocolate chips for example). And will want to have a sip of creamy milk to complete the experience!
4. Listen to Cues
When we have grown up learning to control ourselves rather than listen to ourselves, or if for a long time we have ignored the signals that our body sends us, we may have difficulty feeling them.
To practice listening to cues of feeling hunger and fullness, we can use a tool that consists of rating our sensation on a scale of 1 to 10. The number 1 corresponds to hunger so intense that it is unpleasant (headaches, nausea, feeling weak), while the number 10 represents a state where I am so full that it is unpleasant (bloating, fatigue, pain, nausea).
How hungry are you when you eat? How full are you afterwards? I invite you to take a break in the middle of the meal to evaluate where you are on the scale.
We could also use a scale of 1 to 10 to record our digestive symptoms. Writing down what we eat and feel is a good way to relate digestive symptoms to foods. For example, do you experience fewer digestive issues after drinking a2 milk™ compared to regular milk?
5. Differentiate between hunger and craving
Mindful eating is also about distinguishing between true hunger and the urge to eat in response to an emotion or external stimulus. The key question to ask yourself is: why am I eating?
There is nothing wrong with eating for reasons other than hunger. Being aware of this is the most important step. Then, if we find that we often use food as a way to experience our emotions, we can take action to change this mechanism if we wish. Again, mindful eating allows us to observe our behaviour without judgment.
I realize that our rhythm of life does not always allow us to enjoy our meal in peace. The idea is not to be a "perfect mindful eater", but to give us tools and/or ways to better feel what our body wants to tell us. Observing ourselves -with kindness - is a good way to eventually make changes in our life habits to meet our needs and feel better.