How you eat is as important as what you eat
As a busy working mom with a very busy mind, I fell into mindfulness meditation when I was looking for a way to clear my mind and be more present. In a world that encourages mindlessness, practicing mindfulness can have benefits, not only for your health and eating habits, but also for those around you.
What is mindfulness?
Simply put, mindfulness is a non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. One of my meditation teachers described mindfulness through ABCs:
A = Awareness of what you are thinking, doing and what is going on in your mind and body.
B = Being with your experience and avoiding the tendency to respond on autopilot and amplify problems by creating your own story.
The benefits include:
- Lowered stress and reduced brain chatter.
- Improved focus, concentration and attention.
- Seeing things more clearly and creatively.
- Responding more effectively to complex or difficult situations or emotions.
- Improved connection and compassion to yourself and others.
- Gratitude for good moments and grace for bad ones.
- Making peace with imperfection.
Science: your brain on meditation
Meditation helps train your brain to become more mindful in everyday life. Neuroscientists have studied the brains of meditators versus non-meditators and can see that meditators have more grey matter in regions of the brain that are important for attention, emotion regulation and mental flexibility. Like practising any mental skill (such as math or music), the more you practise, the more you change and create the connections between neurons and change the structure of the brain.
How can mindfulness help me eat healthier and achieve my personal best weight?
How you eat is as important as what you eat. There are many reasons we eat that have nothing to do with necessity. We eat in response to environmental triggers such as seeing something that looked or smelled good or because of learned behaviour such as being told to always finish our plate as a child. We also eat in response to emotional triggers such as stress, loneliness or boredom. Using mindfulness to help check in on what, when, how much and why you eat can allow you to become more skilful at bringing your full attention into your body to nourish all types of hunger (physical necessity, emotional hunger and cravings related to the senses).
Mindfulness and eating disorders
Mindful eating is a very useful tool for anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders in the end stages of recovery. It can, however, be detrimental to use mindful eating strategies in the early stages of battling eating disorder thoughts. In the early stages, it is very hard to hear one’s own true self and trust intuitive hunger cues. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, exploring mindfulness of feelings with your psychologist is very useful. However, from an eating perspective you will need to learn to trust your dietitian to help you with mechanical eating first (a structured meal plan of what, when and how much to eat). In time when your weight is restored and you have reestablished hunger cues, exploring intuitive eating and mindful eating be a useful strategy.
5 Steps to Mindful Eating
When you are eating, only eat. Turn off your phone, television and move away from activities such as multitasking at your desk at work, driving or excessive talking that do not allow you to fully be present in the act of eating.
Pause and breathe
We often move from one task to another without allowing space for transition. Take a moment to take ten deep breathes, closing your eyes to allow your body and mind to settle. Assess your physical sensations that indicate hunger (such as stomach emptiness, stomach growling, desire to eat).
Give gratitude and use your senses
Before taking a mouthful, imagine the different ingredients in their original form and the people responsible for your food from farm to table. Give gratitude that you actually have food on your plate. Notice the colour, texture and temperature of the food as you pick it up. Notice the aroma and taste as you place the food in your mouth.
Notice how your mind responds and eat to comfortable satisfaction
Eat slowly since it is not possible to savour your food if you are not relaxed. While eating, notice thoughts that arise and be compassionate and non-judgmental. Eat to a level of comfortable fullness and true satisfaction. (Don’t stop just because you think you should, let your body cues drive you.)
Pause and breathe again
Take a few more breathes before you finish eating and remind yourself of how the plate looked when it was full and how it looks now. Provide gratitude for the food itself and your ability to take time to nourish your body.
Post originally published in the Calgary Herald Newspaper
Also published in the National Post Newspaper
Calgary Dietitian Andrea Holwegner “the chocoholic nutritionist” is a corporate wellness expert and motivational speaker specializing in workplace health, stress and productivity. She is launching an online nutrition course for distance education for individuals and time-strapped employees, looking to improve their overall nutrition habits. As owner of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. since 2000, she leads a team of Calgary nutritionists specializing in meal planning, weight loss, eating disorders, heart health, diabetes, digestive issues, sports nutrition, kids nutrition and more. Visit www.healthstandnutrition.com or phone 403-262-3466 for more information and to subscribe to her free monthly e-newsletter or award winning blog. Twitter: @chocoholicRD. Facebook: @chocoholicRD Instagram: @chocoholicrd