There is a growing body of research showing the benefits of mindful eating. World-renowned Buddhist master, Thich Nhat Hanh, says that the root of our weight problems is what we eat every day and how we can change our own eating habits forever just by learning to pay attention and enjoy what and how we eat. He says that while we eat there is a need to reconnect to the source of all that is.
There are many approaches to mindful eating; most are rooted in Zen and other forms of Buddhism. I take a very simple approach to mindful eating, and it’s one that I learned about when I was leading the team at the world-renowned Miraval Resort in Arizona. Mindful eating is being aware of the experience. Instead of eating mindlessly — not really tasting the food you’re eating — I want you to focus on your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Pay attention to the look, smell, taste, and feel of your food. How does it make you feel as you taste it?
Researchers have shown that eating quickly, or under stress, can affect every part of the digestive system. Mindful eating promotes optimum digestion and allows for efficient nutrition assimilation and calorie burning.
What Happens to Digestion While Under Stress?
Digestion is controlled by the enteric nervous system, a system composed of hundreds of millions of nerves that are communicating with the central nervous system. When stress triggers the “flight or fight” response, digestion can partly or fully shut down, affecting the contractions of your digestive muscles, and decreasing secretions needed for digestion. Stress can cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal system and make you more vulnerable to infection.
Being aware of these potentially dangerous physiological events warrants for better eating behavior. You must learn how to relax prior to and during each meal and take time to eat in a healthy and conducive environment. Become a mindful eater and you will increase your chances for optimal weight loss and well-being.
The Amazing Benefits of Mindful Eating
By being mindful of what you’re eating, you can often discover deeply rooted emotional issues you have around food and eating. Eating under stress will become less of a problem. You will begin to enjoy the eating experience more, and as a result enjoy life more, in the here and now. It will become a ritual you look forward to. You will notice how food affects your body and your mind throughout the day.
Furthermore, the benefits of eating mindfully are lifesaving, and it’s important to know these benefits if you are committing to the practice. I’m going to go over the most important benefits, though as you learn the practice I’m sure you’ll find many more. Many of these are from personal experience as well as the experience of many of my clients, but many of them are supported by research.
• Optimal digestion.
• Body’s greater ability to burn calories.
• Body’s enhanced ability to assimilate nutrients.
• Learn to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re sated.
• Learn to taste and enjoy food, and identify which food is best for you.
• Slowly realize that unhealthy food isn’t as tasty as you thought.
• Slowly discover that unhealthy food doesn’t necessarily make you feel good.
• You start honoring the source of the food.
Mindful eating is a form of meditation you learn with practice, so there will be times when you’ll forget to eat mindfully. But with practice, focus, and attention, you will become a slow and mindful eater.
Feeling Full Doesn’t Make You Feel Satisfied
A full stomach does not cause a feeling of satiety, it’s a result of your brain reacting to chemicals released when you put food or drink in your stomach. Your brain takes around twenty minutes to register these chemicals. After your meal, these levels continue to rise over several minutes. They stay elevated for up to five hours following the meal, keeping you sated. As the chemical levels drop, the feeling of hunger returns. If you do not feel full following a meal, wait. As the level of chemicals increases, your hunger will dispel. I remember being amazed by how long my family took to eat a full meal. We sometimes sat there for over two hours — it was a healing experience. Needless to say that my mother was right, it‘s better to eat slowly and take your time to smell, enjoy, and taste your food rather than gorging yourself. After all, you are going to be satisfied, anyway.
Mindful eating is about taking the time to feel and listen to your body while you are feeding it. Think about it. How long does it take to eat an entire pizza? I bet you can do that in less than twenty minutes, right? You can also take your time to eat and enjoy a great meal full of healthy foods. You’d feel full and satiated either way. But when it comes to calories and weight loss, however, there is a big difference. You’ll consume less by eating slowly.
Tips for Mindful Eating
• Always sit down.
• Take your time to eat.
• Pay attention to the flavor of your food.
• Chew your food about twenty times before swallowing it.
• Always try to find a relaxed environment if you can.
• Silence your phone.
• Don’t eat while watching TV.
• Take a few slow and deep breaths before starting your meal.
• Enjoy the taste and the wonderful texture of your foods.
There you have it! Welcome to the world of mindful eaters.