In our fast paced society is has become incredibly common to “eat on the go”. Many people eat in their cars, while they’re on the phone or while watching television. All of these things distract us from the actual process of chewing and enjoying our food, which can have a number of negative effects on our health! Mindful eating is the practice of giving our undivided attention to the entire experience of enjoying a meal by really noticing the flavors and textures of the food as we chew slowly and carefully. By putting all other distractions out of our minds, we can achieve a number of amazing health benefits and in this article we will explore five of these benefits and why this works.
1) Better digestion and absorption of nutrients.
When eating with awareness we tend to chew food more thoroughly, which makes the food easier to digest and allows the body to absorb the nutrients in the food more effectively and efficiently. Food needs to be broken down into very small pieces in order to be absorbed through incredibly small passages in our small intestine. The less we digest food in the mouth, the more work the body has to do on that food in the stomach and intestines, and sometimes the body simply does not have enough energy to digest the food into small enough pieces, so the nutrients in the food are not absorbed at all!
2) Food tastes better.
When all of our attention is focused on the sensations of eating, flavors become much more dynamic and vibrant. Many people are astonished at the difference in flavor they experience the first time they give mindful eating a try! The reason for this is that when our awareness is fragmented between our other senses of sight, touch, smell and sound, we are distracted from our sense of taste, and cannot experience it fully.
3) Prevents Overeating and “Food Hangovers”.
To eat mindfully, we have to eat slowly. Because it takes us longer to eat, the stomach has time to signal our brain when it is actually full, a process which takes about 15 to 20 minutes. When eating extremely fast, the “I’m full” signal takes too long to get to our brain and we end up overeating, which can cause many digestive issues. This can also lead to what some people call a “food hangover”, where the person experiences a huge dip in energy. This happens because the body needs all of the available energy to digest the excessive amount of food in the system.
4) Reduces Food Cravings.
By eating with awareness we start to tune into the subtle signals our body is sending us relating to hunger. Many times we might eat for reasons other than being actually hungry including boredom, eating because other people are eating and we want to join in, eating to help deal with emotion, or eating just because it’s a certain time of the day. There’s nothing wrong with us for doing any of these things, and practicing eating mindfully will help us be more aware of the reasons behind our food cravings.
5) Helps us Lose Weight.
When we start to really pay attention to our food, a number of things start to change which can help us lose weight. First, we will be more conscious of what we are actually eating and might start to ask questions such as, “Is this something that will benefit my body?” Second, by eating slowly and thus eating less, we begin to cultivate a stronger metabolism helping us to shed those unwanted pounds. Third, by being more in tune with our body and differentiating between cravings and actual hunger, we can practice eating only when we really need to, promoting weight loss.
My Personal Experience With Less Than Mindful Eating.
Before I began teaching yoga and writing about health and nutrition, I made my living as a professional poker player. As a poker player I had some some extremely bad eating habits. I would actually eat while sitting at the poker table, simultaneously trying to focus on gambling. The waitress would pull up a small table next to me and in between looking at my cards and betting, I would lean over and quickly shovel food into my mouth. I was hardly aware of the taste and texture of my food, and on top of that I was usually stressed from dealing with the emotional roller coaster that is professional gambling. As a result of this I suffered from slow digestion and fatigue, among a host of other symptoms which are also associated with an overworked and stressed out digestive system. Today eating is more like a ritual for me as I am careful to take small bites, eat slowly and actually taste my food!
How To Practice Mindful Eating.
So how can we put this into practice? One simple technique is calling the, “Trail Mix Meditation Technique”, and is a great way to give mindful eating a try. All that is needed for this is a small bowl of trail mix or any other food that can be eaten with the fingers. Sit in a comfortable position in a quiet place, maybe on the couch, and close the eyes. Start by picking up just one small item from the bowl. Chew slowly and bring all of the attention to the sensations in the mouth. Keep the eyes closed and try to use only the thumb and index finger to pick up the food, guaranteeing that really tiny bites are being taken. Finishing the whole portion this way might take 15 to 20 minutes if done correctly. The point is to be as attentive as possible for the whole time, focusing all of the awareness on the act of chewing and tasting the food. Some people notice that the flavors are much more intense and satisfying when they eat this way!
Obviously eating like this in a restaurant or with friends would look a little crazy, so it’s best to practice this alone! That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for us to eat mindfully when we’re with other people though! This practice can help apply the same principles when we’re out, so that we don’t need to close our eyes or eat with only two fingers. We naturally become more mindful every time we eat after doing this exercise only once. Give this practice a try! The awesome health benefits are well worth the extra time and attention that it requires.