Mindful eating is the conscious process of anticipating and enjoying our food. In today’s world, where gut problems are rife, it would be fair to say that how we eat is a key factor. Today it is so easy to buy food and eat on the run, or pull some instant food out and find we’re consuming it before we’ve even thought about it. Even if we are eating healthy whole foods that need a bit of preparing, we’re often focused on a thousand and one other things while we prepare and eat.
So what’s so important about conscious eating? Digestion! Digestion and absorption of food requires a number of things to happen. If we don’t digest our food, we’re not preparing the nutrients to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Without plenty of well prepared nutrients in the blood stream, we don’t give our body what it needs to repair and function well for us, our muscles and organs under perform, and we can’t enjoy optimum health.
It’s not just your cells that do well with mindful eating, your microbiome will flourish more too and you’ll reap the benefits that your little microbial friends provide for you; phyto nutrient metabolism, neurotransmitter production, strong immunity and internally synthesized vitamins. Studies show that stress kills off helpful microbes. So both the stress state that goes with mindless eating, and the resulting depleted body stress, will impair your microbiome’s efforts to work for your health.
Mindful eating starts, or should do, before food reaches your mouth. When we anticipate food, by being mindful that we are preparing and about to eat a meal, our digestive juices are released. The enzymes and stomach acid released will be ready to do their job as the chemical division of the breakdown team, releasing those nutrients from our food. Hint: drink a glass of water at least half an hour before a meal, to hydrate your system and give your body what it needs for digestion.
Once in the mouth, don’t forget to chew, we do have teeth for a reason other than brightening a smile. Chewing breaks the food into smaller pieces so the enzymes and acid can reach more surface area, and do a more effective job. My Grandma used to tell me to chew each mouthful 40 times; pity I didn’t listen to her!
Peacefulness is paramount for healthy assimilation of nutrients. When training, I was taught the concept of “Rest and Digest”. That is, our autonomic nervous systems are designed to innervate our fight or flight reaction, OR our digestion and assimilation process, it doesn’t manage to do both effectively at the same time.
When we’re in fight or flight mode, we don’t produce digestive juices well, the stomach doesn’t churn the food so well and we simply don’t digest well. Even though most of us in comfortable Aotearoa aren’t physically fighting or running, we’re often living in tension of some sort, and when we’re tense, our stomach is too. If we’re not tense, we’re often so busy in our minds or we’re doing too much, and we suffer the same effect; impaired digestion.
This is where conscious eating comes in, our forebears did it well, but we have to retrain our thinking and habits around food consumption.
To create a comfortable mindful approach to your sustenance you should…
- Anticipate your food.
- Prepare your food with care. If you aren’t preparing your meal, make sure you still take time to think about what it is you’re about to consume.
- Take time to relax and enjoy your food.
- Eat when you are hungry, not just exhausted (think about the difference).
- Don’t snack mindlessly.
- Be thankful and show gratitude in some way for your meals, perhaps a prayer or acknowledgement of your blessings.
- Chew, chew, chew; let your teeth do the work they’re made for.
- Think about what you’re eating, how does it taste? What does it smell like? What texture is it?
- Think about what the food is doing for you, both the pleasure of eating and the nourishment it provides.
- Share this time with others you are relaxed and comfortable with.
- If you’re struggling to relax, check that you are using your diaphragm to breathe, not your chest.
- Don’t rush off after your meal; take time to relax while your digestive system does it’s job.
Make your meal times a health ritual two or three times each day. You’ll be surprised what this will do for your mind and body health.
For those of you who are thinking that you’re too busy for such a process, I suggest that the few extra minutes you spend for optimal nutrient absorption, can ultimately save you hours of unproductive time when you may be suffering things like exhaustion, low immunity, inflammatory aches and pains or depression, auto-immune troubles and sleeplessness. Invest in your body and your future, practice mindful eating!
Mindful eating is something that needs to be practiced, just like meditation and other life giving practices. It may be something you need to revisit many times; it certainly has been for me. I will have periods of focused mindful eating and then find that somewhere along the line, that focus has drifted off. When mindful eating and a mindful eating environment is practice from childhood, this way of being becomes part of who we are and is easier to sustain in a busy life. We can impart a mindful nourishment approach to our children and grand children to help them flourish and to impart this health giving practice of conscious eating to future generations.