Mindfulness at the Table
‘Mindfulness is being aware or bringing attention to this moment in time, deliberately and without judging the experience.’ – Patricia Collard.
When applied to food and the act of eating, mindfulness is generally about not eating mindlessly – that is, without much thought. It stands for pausing for a moment to appreciate food and its importance in our life. Therefore, to eat mindfully is to observe your eating habits as they have much greater impact on our digestion, absorption and general health than you may think!
What are the benefits?
When applying some of the advice to your daily routine, you may notice:
Better control over cravings.
Reduced digestive symptoms, such as indigestion, heartburn, bloating or wind.
Better portion control.
Improved satiety after eating a meal.
Improved satisfaction from meals.
Better weight control.
How can you use mindfulness techniques with food?
Before eating, ask yourself why you want to eat the meal or food product that’s in front of you? Is it because you’re hungry, stressed, bored or simply because it’s available to you? And further, is the meal, snack or drink going to provide you with energy, make you feel good about yourself or will you regret it afterwards? Some people find that they feel the need to snack when they need distraction from a difficult task or when looking for some excitement in the time of boredom. If that’s how you may sometimes feel, perhaps stop what you do, stand up and get outside for a couple of minutes, get some fresh air, do gentle stretches, play your favourite song or make yourself a cup of tea. Alternatively, try brushing your teeth or taking a chewing gum – the freshness of breath may help you combat the craving.
Another technique that you can use is to create excitement around food. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how lucky we are by having access to food when we need it and, on top of this, we can satisfy pretty much each craving here and now. So how to bring the excitement back to the table? E.g., if you have an appetite for sweets and desserts, make them at home. This way you’ll not only know exactly what you’ve put in the cake, but you’ll also engage your creativity and the chances are you’ll appreciate it more than a ready-bought slice of cake that doesn’t require any effort or energy output. When baking, smell and taste the ingredients and enjoy the moment of waiting for the hot cake to cool down before you can slice it. Don’t forget to share it with others!
With our busy lifestyles, it’s easy to get distracted and it’s rather hard to find the time to eat. Habits I commonly observe are to grab a sandwich and eat it on the way to work or at the desk or on a train whilst reading a paper, scrolling through social media or answering e-mails. Try this – when you eat, you focus on eating and only that! In an ideal world, you could sit down at the table (if you must sit at the desk, turn off the screen so you’re not distracted), place the food on a plate and appreciate the way it looks, eat it with the cutlery and enjoy its flavours. As much as you can, allow for at least 10-15-minute break without rushing – for most of us, that’s as long as it takes to eat a meal. If you can extend your meal to 30min, then even better!
This brings me to another recommendation – chewing. As silly as it sounds, make sure you chew food well and only take another bite once you have swallowed the contents of your mouth. You don’t have to count how many times you chew, simply recognise when you’re about to swallow a bite and before you do it – chew it a couple more times. Eating food quickly puts a huge strain on digestive system, not to mention that you’re unlikely to taste the food much. What is more, smelling food will encourage secretion of gastric juices and enzymes and chewing well aids digestion as smaller food particles will be broken down and absorbed with ease. When you eat slowly, you allow your body to send signals of fullness as the levels of leptin, hormone that signals satiety, increase and reach the brain. The chances are you will eat less or feel more satisfied after a meal.
Eat up to a point when you don’t feel hungry, not when you feel so full you could explode. Portion your meals on a plate and wait for a couple of minutes before you reach for another serving. If you haven’t finished what you’ve got – perhaps leave it for later? Don’t force yourself to eat more than needed, especially when food is served for you and you don’t have much control over portion size. This is especially helpful at later stages of pregnancy when your stomach size reduces and will help you avoid reflux.
Lastly, as much as you can, eat at the table rather than on a sofa or on the go and you may experience less bloating and indigestion. This is thanks to the upright position, which allows for the oesophagus (long tube connecting mouth and stomach) to elongate and it also helps to reduce any contractions around the belly.
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