The benefits of mindful eating (and how to do it)

Let us explore the many health benefits of mindful eating and learn how to eat mindfully

Woman eating mindfully / concept of mindful eating

Whether you want to lose weight, or reverse a certain disease, or just enjoy your food more, there’s one exercise that you must do. No, I’m not talking about aerobics or weight training or swimming. What I am referring to is the exercise of mindful eating.

This little exercise, if done with attention and earnestly, will introduce you to a whole new world of eating mindfully. Mindful eating simply means that you give your full attention to the food you’re eating. Doing so will help you gain a lot more from your food even as you will likely eat less than usual.

We spend considerable time and effort, not to mention money, on our food. And why not? We want to make sure that we get all the nutrients that our body needs. Many of us engage the services of a nutritionist or a dietician in the hope that they will provide us with the magic diet plan that tells us exactly what we should eat and how much. But, few of us ask how we should be eating. Mindful eating teaches us that.

Why you should practise mindful eating

  1. You learn to respect and appreciate food. When you eat mindfully, you become aware of the journey that the food has travelled all the way from when the seed was sown, to reach your plate. You also acknowledge the efforts of scores of people who participated in small and big ways to make it happen.
  2. You reconnect with your appetite. Do you rely on your dieticians to tell you the ideal portion size? Or do you determine the quantity of your consumption based on some charts released by the FDA? Perhaps you take a cue from how much other adults eat. By reconnecting you with your body’s instincts, mindful eating will help you to discover your very own appetite.
  3. Your digestion will improve. When you eat mindfully, your whole body relaxes and it release hormones of ‘rest and digest’, contrary to the hormones of ‘fight and flight’, which are released when your body is stressed. This improves your body’s overall digestion, assimilation and the elimination process improves.
  4. You will know which foods are good for you and which you should avoid. Again, this won’t be based on what the experts say, but on your body’s intrinsic intelligence.
  5. As you eat slowly, take smaller bites and chew your food well, your body will also absorb more nutrients from the food.
  6. You will feel satiated sooner and therefore naturally eat less.
  7. Making food choices becomes easier when you are less dependent on others to tell you what to eat

Raisin eating exercise

This exercise will help you understand what mindful eating involves. All you need is a raisin and a few undisturbed minutes. I’m suggesting a raisin but you might choose any other small piece of food like an almond or a cashew or even a small piece of chocolate.

  1. Place the raisin in front of you, and just look at it. Now imagine as if this is the first time you have seen a raisin. This will mean that you don’t have any prior experiences of what a raisin looks like or how it feels to touch, you are obviously curious. See it carefully, give it all your attention.
  2. Once you’ve looked at it, gently take it in your hands; feel the texture of the raisin as you press it between your thumb and index finger
  3. Now bring it close to your nose and notice if has any smell. If you sense any aroma from the raisin, notice any reactions—for instance, is your mouth beginning to salivate slightly?
  4. Put it into your mouth but don’t bite yet. Just toss it around and watch if you taste any flavours. Notice how it feels to have a whole raisin in your mouth
  5. Now bite into it. Just relish the burst of flavours—even a single raisin can release great amount of flavours
  6. Start chewing it slowly. When you have chewed enough, swallow it with your full awareness, noticing as it travels from your mouth to your throat before disappearing into your alimentary canal [food pipe]. Notice that the sweetness still lingers in your mouth even after you’ve swallowed the raisin.

Repeat this exercise from time to time as a gentle reminder about eating mindfully. Of course, I’m not suggesting that from now on you must eat every morsel of food in the same way and at the same pace. That’s not the point. The point is to be aware of food we consume and the raisin exercise helps us realise how we almost always eat without giving any attention to the food or the process of eating. No wonder there are times when, after we finish eating, we are left asking ourselves: “Hey, where did the food on my plate go?”.

Also read » Embrace Slow Food

Tips to help you eat mindfully

  1. Keep distractions away. Turn off the TV and keep your phone and laptop away. Don’t even read while eating, even if you are eating alone
  2. Take a few moments before you begin eating—to take three deep breaths. This helps to calm your body and prepares the digestive system for a meal. Put everything else on hold as you get ready to enjoy your food
  3. Always sit and eat. Don’t eat on the move—even if you’ve just grabbed something from the fridge or kitchen cabinet, don’t walk around the house eating
  4. Spare a few seconds to give thanks for the food and bless the food
  5. Chew your food slowly and take smaller bites
  6. Keep your fork/spoon down between bites
  7. Do not discuss stressful/ important issues while eating. Those situations release chemicals in your body that impede, instead of aiding, your digestion
  8. As often as you can, ditch the fork/spoon and just use your fingers to eat.

You don’t need to wait for an ideal scenario to practise mindful eating. You can even practise it when you are at a party or are out for lunch with friends or when someone else in the room wants to have the TV on. If fact, those are the times when you probably need to be more attentive about how, what and how much you are eating.

To sum up, eating mindfully can help you reconnect with your nutritional needs, lose weight, improve your digestion and enhance your joy of eating. Worth a shot, you’d agree!

Before you begin eating—relax and take three deep breaths. This helps to calm your body and prepares the digestive system for a meal.

 

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Grazilia Almeida-Khatri
Dr Grazilia Almeida-Khatri is a homoeopath, expert yoga teacher and a wellness coach. She endorses yoga as a way of life and conducts yoga retreats for individuals and corporates. She is also trained in Pilates by Michael King, who is based in the UK. Dr Grazilia is a practitioner of the Body Mirror System of healing as taught by Sir Martin Brofman. She lives in Mumbai and offers consultations in person and also on Skype.

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