Health Benefits of Mindful Eating

 

Mindful Eating 

Cancer and Diet

     ← nutrition and diet

 


      

Mindful eating is not a diet. There are no menus or recipes. It is being more aware of your eating habits, the sensations you experience when you eat, and the thoughts and emotions that you have about food. It is more about how you eat than what you eat.

Bringing mindfulness to the present moment while eating can have tremendous healing benefits on the physical, mental, and spiritual levels.

“The spirit cannot endure the body when overfed, but,
if underfed, the body cannot endure the spirit.”
-St Frances de Sales

"Better to eat a dry crust of bread with peace of mind than have a banquet in a house full of trouble."

In many cultures, eating meals is a sacred ritual where families and tribes gather, give thanks, and partake in the meal together. This is very powerful and meaningful to most cultures and promotes family ties, communication, and togetherness.

The thing I loved most about living back at home with my parents, was the meal times. At breakfast, lunch, and dinner, we all sit around the dining table and demolish a delicious, healthy feast prepared by my mum. We relished in the tasty food and shared about whatever is going on in our lives. Three times a day, we create a calming, joyful environment to eat in.


     


Antioxidants


In our modern culture, we have lost a lot of the ritual of meals. When you drive by any fast food chain, you will often see cars lined up at the drive through buying hurriedly made meals that will be gulped down while fighting through traffic to reach their next destination. Then dinner is frequently a T.V. dinner, takeout, or some other over processed junk prepared from a box and consumed while watching strangers on television.

Our fast-food culture is one where meals have become yet another task we squeeze in during the day. It is all too common to hear of people grabbing breakfast on the run or attending a lunch meeting, where
business is front and center and food is merely the bait to get people there.
 

Most of the time, we are eating on auto-pilot, eating on the run, eating our worries or anxieties from the day's demands, anticipations, irritations, and to-do lists. If we are not conscious of the food we eat, if we are not actively thinking about that apple, how can we taste it and get the pleasure of eating it? 


        


Too many of us eat in front of the TV or computer, in the car, standing up, or on the phone. As a result of our increasingly busy lifestyles, time scheduled to sit down and have a meal is a rarity saved for Sundays – or sometimes not even then.

How many times have you hungrily gobbled down a meal while at the same time completing another task? Notice how before you know it you have finished the meal without tasting a bite. This is called unconscious eating, and when performed regularly, it can lead to a range of digestive disorders, from acid reflux to irritable bowel syndrome and more.

 

When we eat too fast, on the run or under stress, the sensors that connect our gut to our brains and our five senses are not triggered. Our bodies aren’t prepared for digestion. This also goes for feeling full. By the time our brains get the message that our tummies are topped up, we’ve already inhaled a massive meal and moved on to our next duty. Our bodies barely realize that we’ve eaten, even though our stomachs are full of food. 

Scientists are beginning to evaluate and better understand the complex role of the mind-body connection in eating behavior. It turns out that when our mind is tuned out during mealtime, the digestive process may be 30% to 40% less effective. This can contribute to digestive distress, such as gas, bloating and bowel irregularities.

Once eating is under way, the brain has a key role to send out a signal when fullness is approaching. If the mind is "multi-tasking" during eating, critical signals that regulate food intake may not be received by the brain. If the brain does not receive certain messages that occur during eating, such as sensation of taste and satisfaction, it may fail to register the event as "eating". This scenario can lead to the brain's continuing to send out additional signals of hunger, increasing the risk of overeating.

         


Distracted, hurried eating may add pounds and take away pleasure.


You're at your computer, facing a wall of e-mails. After composing a reply, you hit "send" and reach for the bulging tuna wrap on your desk. After a few bites, chewing while glancing at the screen, you set the wrap down, grab a handful of chips, and open the next message. Before you know it, you've finished lunch without even noticing it.

 

Eating while multitasking, whether working through lunch or watching TV while eating dinner, often leads
us to eat more. On the other hand, eating "mindfully," savoring every mouthful, enhances the experience
of eating and keeps us aware of how much we take in.

How and when you eat is very important in a balanced diet. If people consume the majority of their meals on the run, it is not being digested properly and what little nutrition it has is not being absorbed correctly into our bodies. If all people could sit down at every meal take the time to eat and enjoy good, wholesome food, many illnesses such as colds and flu would decrease drastically. When we take the time to sit and eat we are allowing our bodies the time and energy needed to process the food we are in taking. When people eat on the run the body and the organs have a difficult time devoting the energy needed to process the food the way it should be processed.

 

 

Do these habits sound familiar?

  • Eating until you are too full and then feeling guilty
  • Emotional eating – eating when you are bored, stressed or anxious rather than hungry
  • Grazing on food without really tasting it
  • Mindlessly munching on snacks while zoned out in front of the TV
  • Eating a meal at the same time each day whether you are hungry or not
  • Skipping meals, not paying attention to your hunger signals.


The Four Mindful Points:
 
Check in with each dimension of mindfulness. When you eat, ask yourself these questions:
 

Mind: Do I taste each bite or am I zoned out when I eat? 


Body: How does my body feel before and after I eat? Low energy? Stomach rumbling? Full? Empty?


Feeling: What do I feel about this food? Guilty? Pleasure? Joy? Disappointment? Regret?


Thoughts: What thoughts does this food bring to mind? Memories? Beliefs? Myths? Fears?

________________________________________________________

 

    

 

     Principles of Mindfulness:

  • Mindfulness is deliberately paying attention, non-judgmentally.

  • Mindfulness encompasses both internal processes and external environments.

  • Mindfulness is being aware of what is present for you mentally, emotionally and physically in each moment.

  • With practice, mindfulness cultivates the possibility of freeing yourself of reactive, habitual patterns of thinking, feeling and acting.

  • Mindfulness promotes balance, choice, wisdom and acceptance of what is.

Mindful Eating is:

  • Allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food preparation and consumption by respecting your own inner wisdom.

  •  Choosing to eat food that is both pleasing to you and nourishing to your body by using all your senses to explore, savor and taste.

  •  Acknowledging responses to food (likes, neutral or dislikes) without judgment.

  •  Learning to be aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decision to begin eating and to stop eating.

        


 How to Eat Mindfully


1. Start with one mealtime: breakfast, lunch, or dinner.


  • Choose a specific location to eat, such as your table or the lunchroom at work.

  • Sit quietly. Don't get up, and don't answer the phone.

  • Have all the food you intend to eat on the table in front of       you before starting.

  • To be mindful you must give your full attention to your            eating. You must focus on the process of eating and                enjoying your meal.

  • Before opening the fridge or cabinet, take a breath and ask yourself, "Am I really hungry?" Then do something else, like reading or going for a walk.

2. One way to slow down the process of eating is to challenge the way you have always done it. 


For example, try eating using a pair of chopsticks instead of your customary utensils. This will force you to take smaller portions, eat more slowly, and look at your food more closely. Other strategies include eating with your non-dominant hand, chewing your food 30 to 50 times per bite, or trying to make the portion of food you've taken for the meal last 20 minutes.

Observe the sensation of picking up the food and placing it in your mouth.


3. In Coming to Our Senses, mindfulness guru Jon Kabat Zinn says, "When we taste with attention, even the simplest foods provide a universe of sensory experience, awakening us to them."

The Raisin Consciousness is an exercise Jon Kabat Zinn uses with his clients as a first meditation. The exercise is based on Buddhist teachings. (Note: if you don't like raisins, you can use another fruit or nut.


Awareness Checklist


  • Am I sitting?
  • Eating fast or slow?
  • Mindlessly munching or noticing each bite?
  • Asking " How hungry am I?" on a scale one to ten.
  • Multitasking or truly focused on my meal?
  • Rumbling stomach or bored, stressed, tired , anxious etc?

        


Raisin Meditation


Sit comfortably in a chair.
Place a raisin in your hand.


Examine the raisin as if you had never seen it before.
Imagine it as its "plump self" growing on the vine surrounded by nature.


As you look at the raisin, become conscious of what you see: the shape, texture, color, size. Is it hard or soft?


Bring the raisin to your nose and smell it.

Are you anticipating eating the raisin? Is it difficult not to just pop it in your mouth?


How does the raisin feel? How small it is in your hand?
Place the raisin in your mouth. Become aware of what your tongue is doing.


Bite ever so lightly into the raisin. Feel its squishiness.
Chew three times and then stop.


Describe the flavor of the raisin. What is the texture?
As you complete chewing, swallow the raisin.
Sit quietly, breathing, aware of what you are sensing.


Kabat Zinn discusses the experience thus:

"The raisin exercise dispels all previous concepts we may be harboring about meditation. It immediately places it in the realm of the ordinary, the everyday, the world you already know but are now going to know differently. Eating one raisin very, very slowly allows you to drop right into the knowing in ways that are effortless, totally natural, and entirely beyond words and thinking. Such an exercise delivers wakefulness immediately. There is in this moment only tasting."


          


 Eating an apple meditation


Hold the apple in your hands. Listen to the crunch. Look at the vivid colour of your apple. Smell the sweetness. Tune into the juiciness. 

Do this exercise with a friend. You will need one small slice of an apple for each person.

One person
reads the instructions listed below while the other person completes the exercise.


1. Take one bite of an apple slice and then close your eyes. Do not begin chewing yet.

2. Try not to pay attention to the ideas running through your mind, just focus on the apple.

Notice anything that comes to  mind about taste, texture, temperature and sensation going in your mouth.


Begin chewing now.

Chew slowly, just noticing what it feels like. It's normal that your mind will want to wander off. If you notice you're paying more attention to your thinking than to the chewing, just let go of the thought for the moment and come back to the chewing. Notice each tiny movement of your jaw.

In these moments you may find yourself wanting to swallow the apple. See if you can stay present and notice the subtle transition from chewing to swallowing.

As you prepare to swallow the apple, try to follow it moving toward the back of your tongue and into your throat. Swallow the apple, following it until you can no longer feel  any sensation of the food remaining.
Take a deep breath and exhale.

By eating the apple this way, truly savoring it, you have a taste of mindfulness, the state of awareness that comes from being fully immersed in the present moment. Letting go for those few short minutes and living in the here and now, you can begin to sense the pleasure and freedom from anxiety that a life lived in mindfulness can offer.


       


Why Being Mindful Matters


Besides breathing and sleeping, eating in life's most vital activity. We cannot sustain ourselves without eating.

Mindful eating promotes appreciation, attentiveness and awareness while eating. By changing the way you think about food, your relationship with food will change, affecting your habits and food choices.

Mindful eating isn't about always eating the "right" foods at the right times. It's about being aware of why you are choosing to eat what you are eating. Talking a moment to make your decisions about food conscious can make the difference between reaching the goals on schedule or possibly not at all. It is the unconscious, auto -pilot snacking that can wreak havoc on your nutritional health and well being. The fact that emotional eating does hit suddenly means we are less likely to make choices about what we reach for.

Long before any of the science came along breaking food down into various nutrient, food sustained humans and animals for thousands of years. People lived closely with their food sources and were able to cultivate relationship with food because they had to - survival depended on it. In hunter - gatherer times, finding and eating food was a mater of survival. many hours of the day were spent in the pursuit and eating food.

In modern day that relationship isn’t as essential and so rarely gets cultivated. Food is often taken for granted. What was once a revered relationship (that between humans and their food source) has transformed into the utterly mundane. From where I stand, this disregard for the sacredness of food has led to a corresponding disregard for health and a dishonoring of the tremendous gifts that are here now (clean water, fresh food, roof over our heads, etc).

In the modern world, much of the hunting and gathering is done for us. Very few hours (or, for some people, minutes) are spent gathering, preparing, or eating food. However, as Jon Kabat Zinn, psychologist and author of multiple books on mindfulness, says: "For the most part, we eat with great automaticity and little insight into its critical importance for us in sustaining life and also in sustaining health."

We seem to have forgotten that eating is necessary to our body functions. Food gives us energy, and allows us to think, move, and prosper. But we are no longer attentive to the impact of food on our functioning. The idea of being consumers of food has switched to that of being food "consumers," in a marketing sense.

Our food preferences and choices are now influenced more by food companies, ad campaigns, and the notion that "faster is better." We don't always (or perhaps even often) pick foods based on what our bodies need for optimal wellness. Our busy lives and stress prevent us from taking the time to really nourish body and soul. We eat for convenience, not health.


         


Mindful Eating Has Health Benefits


Paying attention while eating assures full digestion as well as full nutritional benefit.

There is an initial phase of digestion called the cephalic phase that occurs before we actually start to eat. Cephalic means "head," so it is not surprising that this initial phase of digestion begins with the brain seeing, smelling, and anticipating food. An example of the cephalic phase happens when you smell bread baking. Anticipating the delicious flavor of the freshly baked bread causes the mouth to water, preparing you to eat the bread.

In this phase, the brain informs the stomach that it should prepare for a meal by initiating a number of digestive activities. The body begins to prepare for the breaking down and absorption of nutrients. Salivation is activated (saliva is used for the initial break down of carbohydrates) and pancreatic enzymes and stomach acids (also used to break food down) are released. The conveyor belt that is the digestive tract begins its rhythmic movement so that nutrients can be absorbed and moved along.

It is estimated that as much as 30 to 40 percent of the total digestive response to any meal is due to the cephalic phase. So if we aren't paying attention to food before we begin to eat, if we are not fully aware of what and when we are eating, it stands to reason that we are not provoking the full beneficial digestive response.

If we pay attention as we eat, we are likely to eat less and to better digest what we eat.

When we eat while under stress or when experiencing busyness or unpleasant emotions, it affects not only what we eat, but how we digest what we eat.


         


Stress Impacts our Digestion


Your gut is like your second brain

 THE MIND - GUT CONNECTION

There is an initial phase of digestion called the cephalic phase that occurs before we actually start to eat. Cephalic means "head," so it is not surprising that this initial phase of digestion begins with the brain seeing, smelling, and anticipating food. An example of the cephalic phase happens when you smell bread baking. Anticipating the delicious flavor of the freshly baked bread causes the mouth to water, preparing you to eat the bread.

In this phase, the brain informs the stomach that it should prepare for a meal by initiating a number of digestive activities. The body begins to prepare for the breaking down and absorption of nutrients. Salivation is activated (saliva is used for the initial break down of carbohydrates) and pancreatic enzymes and stomach acids (also used to break food down) are released. The conveyer belt that is the digestive tract begins its rhythmic movement so that nutrients can be absorbed and moved along.

It is estimated that as much as 30 to 40 percent of the total digestive response to any meal is due to the cephalic phase. So if we aren't paying attention to food before we begin to eat, if we are not fully aware of what and when we are eating, it stands to reason that we are not provoking the full beneficial digestive response.

Digestion involves a complex series of hormonal signals between the gut and the nervous system, and it seems to take about 20 minutes for the brain to register satiety (fullness). If you gobble down food too quickly, satiety may not occur until after you've gone overboard. There's also reason to believe that eating while we're distracted by activities like driving or working at a keyboard may slow down or stop digestion in a manner similar to how the "fight or flight" response occurs. And if we're not digesting well, we may be missing out on the full nutritive value of our food.

When our bodies perceive a threat, a whole host of physiological reactions occur within seconds. Our bodies move into a state of readiness, a chemical version of "code red." This is called the "fight or flight response," Sympathetic nervous system stimulated.

 
  • Parasympathetic nervous system is over-ridden
  • Pupils dilate
  • Blood pressure rises
  • Digestion is suppressed
  • Immunity is suppressed
  • Detoxification is suppressed
  • Gradual demineralization of bone
  • Impairment of fatty acid metabolism
  • Glucose released
  • Cholesterol released
  • Hormones deranged
  • Muscle broken down, fluid retained
  • Fat is deposited
  • Decreased energy 
  • Mood fluctuations
  • Inflammatory mediators stimulated

 

When the body is in the midst of fighting or fleeing, it gives very little priority to digestion. In fact, it essentially puts the digestive system on hold. After all, if you are being chased by a saber-toothed tiger, it isn't really the time to stop and eat.

Because the digestive system is shut down, fewer digestive enzymes are released and less hydrochloric acid is secreted to aid in the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Without stomach acid, many vitamins and minerals can't be broken down, liberated, or absorbed.

During the stress response, the cells' ability to metabolize fatty acids is also impaired. Instead, the body tends to break down muscle and replace it with stored fat and excess fluid. Over time, this can cause weight gain. In addition, during the stress response, excess glucose is released into the blood stream to provide additional energy. The pancreas then releases additional insulin to deliver the excess glucose. Some researchers believe this can create cravings for foods that are high in sugar.


Your Body Perceives Distraction as Stress


You might think that the stress response doesn't really apply because you don't eat much when you are stressed. But distraction can act just like stress in terms of the impact on your digestive system.

An often-cited 1987 study, published in the journal Gastroenterology, illustrates how metabolism and digestion are altered under perceived distraction and stimuli. In this study, participants consumed a mineral drink while they were in a relaxed state. Researchers found that participants absorbed 100 percent of the drink's nutrients in this relaxed state.

Then the participants were asked to concentrate as two different people spoke to them simultaneously. In one ear someone spoke about intergalactic space travel, while in the other ear, someone spoke about financial planning. When the subjects were exposed to this listening conflict and given the same mineral mix, they showed a significant reduction in assimilation that lasted up to an hour afterward.

The simple act of attending to two stimuli at once dramatically altered their metabolism, even though we might not normally consider this to be very stressful. Consider that people often read the newspaper, watch TV, or drive a car while eating. These distracting stimuli can to some degree impair the ability to digest fully.


If you are eating while overloaded with stimuli and under stress, your body doesn't know that it's supposed to be digesting.


As you dash out the door in the morning, toast in hand, or eat lunch in front of a computer screen, or when anxiously worrying about the day or experiencing negative emotions tied to a relationship, the message you are giving your body is "don't digest."

To your body, these stimuli, while not as dramatic or intense as being chased by a saber-toothed tiger, are still being registered as "emergency." So you can experience digestive symptoms, such as heartburn, a feeling of food just sitting in your stomach, bloating, belching, and overall stomach pain. The nutritional value of even the healthiest meal is diminished because the digestive system isn't functioning optimally to absorb the nutrients.


         


How can I eat mindfully? 


"Eating a mindful meal means completely focusing your mind on the 'process' of eating. You take it moment by moment and focus on the here and now. You begin by looking at the food, noting the different colors and shapes. You really see what is in front of you. You also become aware of the manner in which you reach for the spoon and fork. Food doesn't automatically end up in your mouth. Your entire body is involved in getting it there... from ingredients to atmosphere, whether appealing or appalling, both the psychological mood and the physical accessories that surround you when you eat may influence the way in which you metabolize food and in turn your health and well-being."

"When you take time to experience your food through all your senses; taste (flavor), smell (aroma), sight (presentation) sound (of surroundings), and touch (movement of utensils and the feel of the food)," they suggest, "you are likely to be truly nourished."


What are the benefits of mindful eating?

Mindful eating can help binge eaters as well as many other eating issues. During the past 20 years, studies have found that mindful eating can help you to

  • Reduce overeating and binge eating

  • Lose weight and reduce your body mass index (BMI)

  • Cope with chronic eating problems such as anorexia and bulimia, and reduce anxious thoughts about food and your body and

  • Improve the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes. Thus, it has many benefits!

  • Greater enjoyment of the food you eat

  • Mindful eating plugs you back into your body's cues so you know when to stop and start eating. This can be such a difficult task if your sense of hunger and fullness has been skewed or warped by large restaurant portions, fad diets or comfort eating. Reduced overeating.

  • Mindful eating plugs you back into your body's cues so you know when to stop and start eating. This can be such a difficult task if your sense of hunger and fullness has been skewed or warped by large restaurant portions, fad diets or comfort eating. 

  • Healthier food choices
  • A feeling of satisfaction during and after eating
  • Improved digestion
  • Increased body awareness
 

Eight Essential Steps to Mindful Eating:


1.  Make time to eat

In our fast paced society we are often rushed and eat on the go. That prevents us from appreciating our food.  Making time to focus on what and how we eat is the most important step to mindful eating.  Set aside time to enjoy your meal.


2.  Find an appropriate place to eat

Eat in a calming environment. Sit down at a table, go outside and eat in a local park. Don’t eat at your desk, in your car, or on the couch. 

It’s important to eat in a place that allows you to focus on your food.  Avoid eating in your car, in front of the television or anywhere else that will distract you from your meal.  A dinner table is the perfect, dedicated place to practice mindful eating.  As you become more comfortable with mindful eating you can practice it elsewhere, such as at a picnic, in a restaurant, or even at a food court table.


3.  Acknowledge your food - Honor your meal.

Before eating, take the time to acknowledge your food.  This will mean something different to every person.  Perhaps you will choose to say grace, thank Mother Nature, or simply offer a silent word of gratitude to the farmer who cultivated your food. This acknowledgment is not simply an opportunity to give thanks. It also allows you to disengage from what you were doing and turn your focus to the food and experience before you.


4.  One bite at a time

As you eat, savor one bite at a time. Take a bite of your meal and place your cutlery down so you can focus on the act of eating. Don’t rush your meal.  Chew.  Every morsel of food has something to offer, so take time and experience it to the fullest.


Chew your food!

Digestion begins in the mouth with the action of saliva. If food isn’t chewed properly it means that there’s more work for the rest of your digestion system. I think it’s going a bit overboard to suggest chewing each bite 100 times, but just make sure the food is broken down before you swallow. 


5.  Use all of your senses

Eating is a very sensual experience.  Enjoy it.  As you eat, notice the color, texture, taste, smell and even the sound of every bite.  Eating something as simple as an apple can become a truly wonderful experience when you admire the bright color, hear the crunch and taste the tart and sweet flavors mixing in your mouth.  If you take the opportunity to truly savor the natural flavors of food, you’ll realize that there is no need to smother your meals in sauces and cheese.


6.  Listen to your body

Notice how your body reacts to the food you eat, not just while you’re eating, but afterwards.  Your body craves nourishing food and will tell you when food is or isn’t good for you.  The sight, smell or taste may not always alert you to foods that are unhealthy, but your body never lies.  Consider how you feel after eating a salad or piece of fresh fruit.  Now compare that to the way you feel after eating a Big Mac and fries.  Use those experiences to guide your food choices.  I believe that listening to your body is the most important step in gaining control over your diet and achieving healthy weight loss.


7.  Practice hara hachi bunme

Hara hachi bunme is an old Japanese saying that instructs people to stop eating when 80 percent full.  It takes time for your stomach to tell your brain that it’s full. It’s no surprise then that people who devour their meals quickly are habitual over - eaters. This Japanese saying is a reminder that you should not simply eat what is available or on your plate, but that you should remain mindful of what you’re eating and listen to your body.


8.  Show appreciation for your food

Before finishing your meal, take a moment to appreciate the food you’ve just eaten.  Recall your dining experience and notice how you feel.  If you’ve practiced mindful eating, chances are you feel satisfied and nourished, not bloated or sick.

More tips for mindful eating:

1.  One meal at a time

Poor eating habits are difficult to change, so don’t bite off more than you can chew.  At first, choose one meal a day and commit to mindful eating.  As you become more comfortable with the practice, start to practice mindful eating throughout your entire day.


2.  Practice mindful food preparation

Extend your mindfulness practice to food preparation.  Be present and aware when preparing your meals, whether you’re creating a culinary masterpiece or simply pouring a box of cereal.  Feel the knife in your hand, listen to the sound of food as it simmers on the stove and notice the color of your ingredients.  This mindful approach will make you more familiar with your food and aware where it comes from.  Your choice of what to eat, healthy or otherwise, begins at preparation, not when you begin eating.


3.  Dine with family and friends

Mindful eating doesn’t mean dining alone.  Enjoy your meals with family and friends.  You can still practice mindful eating, and as an added bonus, dining together will strengthen your relationships.

Good or bad, acknowledged or ignored, we all have a relationship with the food we eat.  Use this guide to get started and enjoy your food like never before, by practicing the art of mindful eating.



 Cancer and Diet

    ← nutrition and diet

 

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