“Mindfulness” derives from Buddhism and is a meditation practice that allows you to generate greater awareness of your emotions and physical sensations.
When applied to one’s dietary practices, “mindful eating” can help manage various conditions, such as eating disorders, mental health problems and poor eating habits.
At its core, mindful eating may comprise slowing down while eating, reducing distractions during meals, paying closer attention to hunger cues and engaging all senses. You might also foster a deeper appreciation for your food and better understand how food impacts your feelings, anxiety and overall well-being.
Studies have shown how powerful of a tool mindful eating is and recommends it to regain better control of your eating — here’s why.
Hippocrates famously said to “let food be thy medicine” — a reminder of its healing properties and the importance of eating healthy for disease prevention. Extensive medical research has long backed up his claim, drawing associations between our diets and several health outcomes.
In the United States, where over one-third of the population is obese or overweight, studies on mindful eating have indicated reduced cravings and lowered body mass indexes (BMIs), as well as greater portion control and heightened awareness of hunger and satiety.
Another study from Athens, Greece, found that mindful eating practices improved anxiety symptoms and self-compassion among 57 participants prone to overeating episodes and negative body image.
Adopting mindfulness while eating is a practical approach to managing type 1 and type 2 diabetes. For instance, people who practice mindful eating tend to eat less sugary and energy-dense foods and more fresh produce. Considering 11.3% of the U.S. population has diabetes, integrating mindful eating habits is an effective measure for controlling blood sugar levels.
If food is considered medicine for optimal health and well-being, then mindful eating proves significant for those with chronic illnesses and mental health problems.
Like anything worthwhile, developing mindful eating takes practice. However, you may find these four approaches valuable as you pay more attention to your food intake and eating conventions.
You may have difficulty deciphering whether your body is trying to trick you into thinking you’re hungry. For some people, resisting the urge to scavenge the refrigerator or chowing down on a sweet treat feels impossible. Toss in feelings of anxiety, stress or boredom and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Mindful eating can help you discover how your eating habits reflect emotions rather than physical signals. For instance, you might find that you eat more when you feel stressed, depressed, frustrated, angry, lonely or bored.
Yet, true hunger is often presented as a growling stomach, feeling tired and shaky, frequent headaches and difficulty concentrating. Try drinking a glass of water if you’re unsure whether your hunger is real or not.
Multitasking and distractions may cause you to eat more than you should.
Since it takes about 20 minutes for the body to communicate fullness to the brain, avoiding snacking for about 20 to 30 minutes between meals will give you an accurate indication of whether you’re still hungry.
Eating more slowly by chewing your food longer or setting your utensils down between bites allows you to listen to your body’s signals and encourages your brain and body to catch up to each other.
Wandering mindlessly around your kitchen often leads to random eating patterns and binging habits. Instead, mindful eating promotes intention — sitting down at the table, eating food from a plate rather than its packaging and using utensils.
Sometimes, eating with another person also helps boost awareness of fullness, nourishment and whether you’re eating based on emotions.
Intentional eating might also include stocking your kitchen with healthy options for those moments when you need a snack. Make sure to go to the grocery store after you’ve eaten since shopping while hungry may lead to purchasing items that aren’t good for you.
Medical research shows that heart disease is more common in those with poor nutritional quality. In fact, people tend to have a 14% to 28% higher risk for cardiovascular mortality when following an ultra-processed diet.
Adopting mindful eating practices helps us strike a balance between eating emotionally satisfying foods and supporting high nutritional quality for preventing serious illnesses.
When you slow your eating down and incorporate a greater variety of healthy foods, you’ll be less likely to binge on comfort foods. Of course, reminding yourself why you’re trying to eat a more nutritious diet and embrace better eating habits also helps.
Take, for example, someone eager to improve their heart health and prevent stroke. Mindfully eating a plant-based diet has a 19% decreased mortality rate associated with cardiovascular disease.
Our lives are filled with responsibilities and obligations to be somewhere doing things at all times. However, taking time to listen to our bodies and create a mindful eating practice, even if you begin making changes slowly, is a great way to build awareness around your daily meals.
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