• Rebecca Watts

Mindful Eating

Can connecting with our food help us achieve our goals and improve our health?

Everything on this planet is connected in someway or other, but in modern day society with our busy lives and disconnection from nature many of those connections are forgotten or weakened.

We go through life at such a fast pace, barely giving thought to our surroundings, our history, our biology. How many times have you driven home from work and not remembered the journey home? How often do you sit in front of the TV and eat your dinner paying no attention to the taste or content of anything on the plate.

Being more mindful of our surroundings including our food, helps us connect with our environment as well as our mind and body. These connections are fundamental to good physical and mental health and could help us achieve many of our body, work, life goals.

Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing on the present moment - slowing down - raising awareness of what you can see, smell, hear, feelings, emotions.

Mindful Eating in simple terms is paying more attention to what you consume, its content, its origin, its provision, the senses and feelings it creates.

Food as Fuel

Somewhere along the way we have forgotten the fundamental purpose of food - as fuel. Our bodies need the nutrients and energy we get from fuel for virtually every process. Without energy we will die, without the right nutrients we will suffer poor health, yet this importance seems to slip our mind and food seems to have become a pleasurable and / or social event.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that you shouldn't get pleasure from food as it is important to take pleasure from the simple things in life. However, we should not be forgetting our needs and the functions they perform. Being more mindful of the need for that food.

The food we eat contains potential energy – that food has the potential to be converted to provide energy. A calorie is a common measure used for this potential energy in food. To try to simplify it, we consume food, our bodies then burn that food (digest / process), extracting energy / heat from that process.

In theory, your body's energy supplies are like a burning fire, enough fuel (calories) is needed to keep the fire burning. If you don't put fuel on the fire or not enough fuel your fire may go out or burn much lower effecting your energy levels. Different fuels burn at different paces, for example coal generally burns slower than wood. The same works in our body and the type of fuel also makes a difference to your energy levels.

We are told that carbohydrates are our main energy supply but carbohydrates are more like the fire starter. Carbohydrates act like the kindling on a fire, lighting and burning quickly to get the fire going, they give us quick energy.

If you consume too much processed foods and refined carbohydrates it is like running a fire on fire starters, quick rushes of energy, followed by the dips as our insulin response removes excess glucose. To keep the fire burning steadily Fats, Proteins and fibre are needed like slower burning logs or coal.

The only time we really think about food as fuel is if we are dieting - calorie counting, but this is often just a figure and we are rarely thinking about what that figure means and what that figure should be made up of.

Nutritional Content

Food not only gives us energy, it also gives us nutrients: - Macronutrients - protein, carbohydrates, fats. Micronutrients - vitamins and minerals

Every nutrient has its purpose and together as part of a balanced diet will aid the effective function of your body, enhance how you feel and have a positive effect on your lifestyle.

Our disconnection of food as often led to a lack of understanding, appreciation or care for the nutritional quality of what we consume but this nutritional quality has a profound effect on our physical and mental wellbeing.

We often eat empty calories (no nutritional value), we eat foods that deplete nutrients (sugars, alcohol) and we can miss food / nutrient groups from our diet. Its no wonder that nutritional defiencies, obesity, physical and mental health conditions are on the increase.

We need to give more thought to our food - where it has come from, the quality of it, the processes it may have gone through, the nutritional content of it, how it works with our bodies needs.

Eating more mindful

Being more mindful of what and how we eat can have amazing benefits.

It slows you down, allows you to reconnect with your feelings and thoughts.

Mindful eating can help

- you understand when you are full and stop eating,

- you learn to truly taste and appreciate foods,

- you to see patterns with feelings and foods,

- improve your relationship with food,

- you start liking proper healthy foods and disliking junk food,

- you understand how nutrition effects your moods and energy levels

- not see it as the enemy

- begin to really enjoy and appreciate food

All of which can have a positive effect on weight management, physical and mental health.

How to be more mindful with your food

Mindful eating isn't easy, it can take time and practise to get used to, but it is worth the effort. It will be come easier and less time consuming but to start with try this technique, its also great practice for slowing down and enjoying your food- Allow for double the amount of time to eat your meal- sit out of the way of distractions (people, TV, Phone)- understand your food - its origin, its purpose, its processes- use all of your senses - touch, feel, smell, hearing, sight, taste- connect with your feelings and emotions - think about what you see, what it smells like, how it feels in your mouth....- take your time, chew each mouthful slowly, experiencing the feelings / emotions it creates before you eat, in your mouth, in your stomach, after- it may help to start to make a list of questions to ask yourself as you go through these processes