Many people eat in their cars, or while they’re on the phone or watching television.
In our fast-paced society, it has become incredibly common to “eat on the go.” These habits distract us from the actual process of chewing and enjoying our food, and 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 health benefits. In this article I’ll explore five of these benefits and why they work.
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 nutrients more effectively and efficiently. Food needs to be broken down into 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. Sometimes the body simply does not have enough energy to digest the food into small enough pieces, so it doesn’t absorb the nutrients in the food 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. When our awareness is fragmented between our other senses (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 occurs when the body needs all of the available energy to digest the huge 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. We eat because other people are eating and we want to join in, to deal with emotion, or just because it’s a certain time of the day. There’s nothing wrong with us for doing any of these things, but eating mindfully will help us be more aware of the reasons behind our food cravings.
5) Helps us to lose weight.
When we start to pay attention to our food, a number of things start to change that 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. Third, by being more in tune with our body and differentiating between cravings and actual hunger, we can practice eating only when we need to.
Choosing to eat mindfully.
So how can we put this into practice?
One simple technique is called the “Trail Mix Meditation Technique.” It 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 your thumb and index finger to pick up the food. 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 this way in a restaurant or with friends would look a little crazy, so it’s best to practice alone. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for us to eat mindfully when we’re with other people, though. we can apply the same principles when we’re out so we don’t need to close our eyes or eat with only two fingers.
We naturally become more mindful after doing this exercise only once—give it a try! The health benefits are well worth the extra time and attention.
Author: John Miller
Apprentice Editor: Sarah Gilbert; Editor: Toby Israel