We all have those days when we are strapped for time to sit and savour a meal. Sometimes we eat in the car in traffic. Other times we eat on our laps in front of the television, or while working in front of the computer.
Unfortunately, in our fast-paced lifestyle, these scenarios mentioned are often the norm and not the exception. And, unfortunately, gulping down food and quickly devouring meals come with a cost.
Recent research, from Japan’s Hiroshima University, identified the link between gulping down food and metabolic syndrome.
What is metabolic syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is a group of metabolic risk factors that exist in one person. Some of the underlying causes of this syndrome that give rise to metabolic risk factors, include being overweight, insulin resistance, physical inactivity and genetic factors.
Metabolic syndrome is a serious health condition. The reason why this is an area of concern is that people with this syndrome are also more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.
What is mindful or intuitive eating…and how does it help?
Eating is a natural, healthy and enjoyable activity to satisfy hunger and fuel the body. But in our diet-obsessed, food abundant culture, many individuals struggle with a love-hate relationship with food.
Eating is too often mindless, overwhelming, and guilt-inducing instead. This troubled relationship with food often lies at the heart of some of the most common health problems in our society. Or, it can be a ‘symptom’ of unmet needs in other areas of one’s life.
Mindful eating is an ancient, mindfulness-based practice with profound implications and applications for resolving problematic eating behaviours and troubled relationships with food. It also fosters the development of self-care practices that support optimal health.
Although the concept has grown in popularity recently, mindful eating is still widely misunderstood and underutilised. So, let’s talk it through.
What exactly is mindful eating?
One very simple and practical way to think about mindful eating is with intention and attention. Eating with the intention of feeling better when you’re finished than you did when you started, and with the attention necessary to notice food and its effects on your body and mind.
Research on mindful eating and mindfulness as it relates to eating behaviours is accumulating quickly, with promising results. The evidence demonstrates a positive impact on a wide variety of food- and well-being related issues, including emotional eating, binge eating, food cravings, nutrient intake, blood glucose regulation, and more.
Often narrowly understood as ‘eating slowly’ or ‘eating without distraction’, mindful eating may also incorporate thoughts, feelings, and behaviours throughout the entire process of eating. The goals of mindful eating can be broadly summarised as follows:
- Cultivating awareness of physical and emotional cues.
- Recognising non-hunger triggers for eating.
- Learning to meet non-hunger needs in more effective ways than eating.
- Balancing eating for nourishment and enjoyment.
- Increasing satisfaction from eating.
- Using the energy you consume to live vibrantly.
Dr. Michelle May states it perfectly, in the book series Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: “When a craving doesn’t come from hunger, eating will never satisfy it.”
Eating is so much more than what you eat or even in the manner you eat. Mindful eating helps us look beyond the superficial reasons why we eat.
How does mindful eating help improve health and quality of life?
- Increases consciousness of unrecognised or unexamined triggers.
- Creates space between triggers and response.
- Interrupts old, unconscious and ineffective patterns and habits.
- Empowers decision-making that supports optimal well-being.
- Develops skills that positively influence other areas of life.
Who benefits from mindful eating?
Mindful eating is a simple concept that can be applied in any setting – home, at work, dining out, travelling, and on special occasions. It’s a flexible approach that doesn’t depend on a limited list of foods. So, it works well across cultures and socioeconomic conditions. It doesn’t require weighing, measuring, reference lists, logging, or other time-consuming practices, so it fits into even the busiest lifestyle. Unlike dieting which becomes more difficult over time, mindful eating becomes easier and more natural with practice.
In addition, mindful eating is an effective approach for resolving issues related to food and physical activity that diminish well-being and quality of life for people across the health spectrum. Those who have struggled with yo-yo dieting or weight cycling and have tried numerous programs (including weight loss surgery) are especially likely to benefit from this approach because it’s not based on restriction, deprivation and willpower.
People who are at risk for or affected by chronic conditions impacted by nutrition, such as metabolic syndrome or diabetes, benefit greatly by learning sustainable self-management skills through mindful eating.
So, in short, anyone who eats can benefit from bringing greater intention and attention to their decisions.
How to get started with your first mindful eating practice:
- Start with a favourite: Choose a favourite food or dish you really enjoy and have eaten often.
Sense it: Observe the look, touch, texture, and smell. Appreciate the appearance and scent of your food and begin to perceive any sensations happening in your body, particularly your stomach and mouth.
- Observe before you chew: Once you take a bite, observe the sensation of food in your mouth without chewing. Carefully think about the taste of the food.
- Go slow and think: Chew slowly and pause briefly. Think about the location of the food in your mouth, as well as the taste and texture. Concentrate on how the taste and texture change as you continue chewing.
- Pause: Before you swallow, pay attention to the urge to swallow. Do so consciously and notice the sensation of the food travelling down the oesophagus to the stomach. Pay attention to any physical sensation.
- Be grateful: Take a moment to express gratitude for the food, for those who provided it for you, and for how it was made. The concept of gratitude will help in the overall process of mindful eating.
Retha Harmse wrote this article for Diabetes SA in August 2019