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There’s lots of talk around all things mindfulness (including mindful eating) at the moment. It’s become a buzz word and we hear about mindfulness meditation, mindfulness everyday, mindful eating… However, mindfulness and mindful eating are very important for our overall health and well being.

So what is mindful eating?

Hint, it isn’t ‘watching what you eat’, calorie counting, ‘macros’, or portion control, or any kind of dieting, deprivation or restriction mindset. Mindfulness to me is about connection. Connecting to ourselves and our emotions, our environment, our friends and family, and our food. It’s paying attention to these different things, moment-by-moment, without any judgement or value given to it.

Mindful eating is about tuning in and giving your full attention and awareness to your cravings, hunger, what you’re eating or drinking and how your body is feeling when you’re eating or thinking about food. Fundamentally, mindful eating involves eating slowly and without distraction, listening to your body’s physical hunger cues and eating only until you’re full.

Mindful Eating Enhances Digestion

Your body digests food best when your nervous system is in ‘rest and digest’ mode. This is when oxygen-rich blood is focused on flowing to the digestive system. Your brain (the first part of the digestive process) sends signals to your organs to make the enzymes and acids needed for breaking down food and absorbing nutrients.

In ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode you are not in the best state to digest your food. Your body is not focusing on the organs of digestion, instead oxygen-rich blood and glucose are focused on the limbs, brain and heart to help you fight or flee the situation. So you won’t absorb as many nutrients from whatever you are eating.

Food will either sit longer in the intestines than it should, causing food to ferment and increase gas production. Or your body will move food through more quickly, to get it out of the intestines so it can focus on other things. In either case, you’re getting less from the food than is ideal.

Are you actually hungry?

Really, this is the first question to ask yourself before you get to preparing and eating food. Are you actually hungry? Or are you thirsty, tired, bored…

Keep it Calm

Avoid watching television, social media, or listening to the news while you’re eating. Aside from distracting you from what you’re doing (eating), watching or hearing scary, traumatic, controversial or worrying news/information while you’re eating can quickly take you out of ‘rest and digest’ mode and in to ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode. Concentrate just on eating.

Chew it Good

You probably got told as a child to chew each mouthful 30 times. I’ve been told varying amounts of times throughout my life! What I’ll tell you is to chew your food well until its almost a paste before you swallow. No set number of chews, tune in to what’s happening in your mouth, that’s part of mindful eating.

When you’re hurried or stressed you often chew a couple of times and gulp down large chunks of food. This puts more pressure on your digestive system when it may already be having a hard time. So tune in to what you’re feeling in your mouth, and swallow when you feel like it’s all mashed up and ready for the next stage of digestion in your stomach.

Hold the Drinks

How does this relate to mindful eating? Too many liquids drunk just before, during or after your meal dilutes your stomach acid and digestive secretions. It can also trick your appetite-regulating hormones and make it hard for you to really gauge whether you’ve had enough to eat or not. For kids, they can fill up on liquids and then be hungry again when you’ve packed up from the meal. I find that so annoying, do you?

So, to help support your digestive function, keep liquids to 1 cup or less before, during and after meals.

SLOw down and sit down

Chewing your food really well helps make mindful eating easier as it slows down the pace you eat at. You can really tune in and enjoy or savour the flavours and textures you’re tasting. Putting your cutlery down in between mouthfuls also helps support slowing down, mindful eating, and gives your body time to do its thing (including sending messages back to the brain when your stomach starts filling up). It also helps you avoid over-eating.

Ideally, sit down at a table to help keep you focused on what you’re doing (eating). Sitting in the car doesn’t really count, because you’re not focused on eating, but driving. Really, it isn’t safe driving while you’re eating anyway.

Follow your nose

Use your senses to tune in to what you’re eating. The senses are key to mindful eating and proper digestive function. Seeing, touching, smelling, and tasting  food triggers your brain to send messages to the stomach and intestines that food is on the way. This stimulates them to produce digestive secretions and enzymes.

Touch your food while prepping and cooking when you can. Notice the textures, the sensations as you hold the ingredients. Smell the spices, the aroma from it cooking. Take a moment to use your eyes and take in the colours, textures and beauty of the food on your plate. Finally, take a mouthful and while you’re chewing, pay attention to the flavours, textures and sensation of the food in your mouth. 

One Final Tip

Stop eating when you’re starting to feel full. When you’re eating mindfully, you’re eating slowly and are more able to tune in and listen to the messages your stomach and intestines are sending to your brain. So you should be able to notice when you’re just starting to get full and be able to stop before you get to that uncomfortable, over-full feeling. No more needing to sleep sitting up! 

You’ve made it through mindful eating 101

Hooray! You’ve read through the blog, so now what? The real fun begins when you start implementing these tips in to your daily life. What is one thing that you can take from this blog and implement? Focus on and master it for at least a week before you add another tip. My suggestion is to start with ditching the TV, smart phone or tablet.

If you’d like more information about what stress does to your digestion and how to support it, please read this blog ‘4 Tips to Support Digestion During Stress’.

Don’t forget to download your free copy of my guide to supporting your body during busy or stressful times. It’s packed full of practical, easy tips to help you build your body’s stress resilience. Find it here.

If it’s all too much and you don’t know where to start, did you know that I love empowering Mums to reclaim their health and well being with knowledge and understanding of their bodies, a personalised plan for wellness and step-by-step support? If you’d like to find out more, check out my Naturopathic Consultations page, and book your free 15-minute discovery call to find out how I can help you on your health journey.