Mindful eating is the thoughtful and intentional practice of eating. It’s important for making better food choices, watching our portions and allowing us to be present to savor and fully enjoy our food. It’s also beneficial as a weight, stress and gut health management tool. Like anything else, mindfulness is a practice and as with any practice, repetition and habitual discipline improves its effectiveness. Mindful eating informs every aspect of our dining experience — what we eat, where we eat, when we eat — and helps us make better choices.
Your gut and your brain are closely connected through a pathway involving nerves, hormones and inflammatory cells. Called the “second brain” by Emeran Mayer, MD in The Mind-Gut Connection, the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) sends sensory information generated in the gut to the brain and the brain signals it back to the gut ultimately affecting your emotional, digestive and nutritional health. It takes 20 minutes to communicate from our stomach to brain that we’re satisfied..
According to the National Institutes of Health, the reasons people eat mindlessly is unknown. “The smartest person you know cannot explain why they ate a salad instead of soup this morning, or why they ate one breakfast food instead of another, but these mindless eating habits can easily be changed, not by education, but by essentially changing the environment.”
Environmental factors that can lead to mindless eating could be the size of your plate, the convenience of food and whether or not we are listening to our hunger cues. There are countless reasons to give mindless eating a try including helping you to make more healthful food choices and finally learning when you are truly hungry.
We have three easy ways to get started that have helped my clients:
- Practice gratitude before you eat. Be grateful for the farmers, drivers, grocery store clerks that allowed food to come to your table.
- Chew slowly focusing on the textures, flavors and smell of your food.
- Take an actual break to eat. Sit down. Turn off electronics during meal times.
Mindfulness teaches us how to recognize and let go of any negative emotions we may have around food. Being fully present and aware every time you eat is a practice — one you can’t expect to perfect immediately. Be patient with yourself.
— By Laura Collis, nutrition and wellness coach + Nutritious Life Studio alumni