How often do you think about what you eat? You probably don’t. Even if you do, it is worth asking: what are you eating every day? This is important because what you put in your body does not just pass through and exit the digestive system like a tunnel; it’s probably more like a landfill incinerator like the one in Toy Story 3. The digestive system removes each and every nutrient from food and sends the rest to the toilet. However, it takes several hours to do this. Thus, the digestive system hates food that has no nutrients in it, because it wastes the system’s time (in essence). Thus, one should be careful to eat only the best food; one of the best approaches to doing so is called mindful eating.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is a Zen Buddhist practice that aims to encourage people to consider what they eat as they eat. (Nelson, 2017) Psychologist Joseph B. Nelson, who wrote the previously mentioned article, cites an experience that he had prior to 2017. He was asked by a doctor named Jon Kabat-Zinn to do something with a raisin – to treat eating it as if he just arrived on Earth. The practice involved using the five senses – sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound – to understand the finer details of the raisin. In other words, Nelson was thinking about the raisin before he ate it. The idea behind doing this exercise is to think about what you are eating, which is a great way to fight mindless eating.
Mindless vs. Mindful Eating
- Sitting down when eating. Oftentimes, teenagers are so busy with school, work, and extracurriculars that they have to eat on the run or rush. By doing this, they are eating mindlessly because they aren’t aware of the food they are eating.
- Multitasking. Multitasking while eating is another example of mindless eating. It can be very tempting to watch TV while eating or scroll on social media. However, people who eat in front of a device or while multitasking don’t pay attention to what they are eating or how much they are eating. This can cause them to make unhealthy eating choices or overeat.
- Eating when we are hungry. Sounds simple, right? Many times, we tend to eat when we are stressed, upset, or angry. This is mindless eating. True mindful eating is eating when our body is hungry rather than when our mind tells us to eat.
What are the Benefits of Mindful Eating?
Several studies have found benefits to mindful eating in adults. For example, one study found that African-American women who practiced mindful eating had reduced their weight. (Chung et al., 2016) Further, a randomized controlled trial (the gold standard of studies in medicine) found that mindful eating reduced fasting glucose levels, a sign of reduced risk of diabetes. (Mason et al., 2016).
Benefit 1: Promotes Better Food Choices
Mindfulness aids in weight loss because it helps you make healthier diet choices. When someone is eating without paying attention to how much they are eating, they tend to eat more food without knowing it. This is exactly why you tend to eat more popcorn at the movie theater. Also, when you are mindful of the food that you put in your body, it can help you make better choices. When we direct our focus mindfully, we can connect to the higher-level thinking and plan part of our brain vs. acting out of the survival, autopilot and impulsive part of our brain which gives into hardwired cravings for fat and sugar.
Benefit 2: Helps to Change Eating Behavior
The final benefit that is important in regards to mindful eating is that it is effective in changing eating behavior. A systematic review in Nutrition Research Reviews examined 68 studies, of which 7 examined mindful eating in some way. Researchers found that mindful eating is probably effective in changing eating behavior, although some of the benefits appear to occur as part of a broader mindfulness program. (Warren et al., 2017) This is supported by a 2014 systematic review in Obesity Reviews, which examined 21 studies and found that mindfulness-based interventions were effective in changing eating behaviors, including mindful eating programs. (O’Reilly et al., 2014) Thus, from these two systematic reviews, we can see that mindful eating can be beneficial.
How Should You Practice Mindful Eating?
One of the best ways to practice mindful eating is to eat without any distractions. Eating while watching TV or watching screens may be tempting, but these devices can be a major distraction. Also, eating slowly while noticing the taste, smell, and touch of the food you are eating is a way of eating mindfully. Rather than eating while talking to
others, eating in silence can help you focus on the food rather than the conversation. These practices will help you realize when you are full and prevent overeating as well as force you to put more thought into the nutritional value of your food. Notice which foods you eat are full of nutrients and which foods are just empty calories. When practicing mindful eating, it’s a good idea to pick one meal a day to eat mindfully to help make eating mindfully a habit. Then, it is a good idea to implement this habit into other meals. For example, starting by eating mindfully at breakfast every morning and then trying it at lunch and dinner.
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