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When was the last time you ate today? It may have been within the last few hours, or maybe just within the past few minutes. How much do you remember from that meal or snack? Can you taste the flavours lingering in your mouth? Can you smell each separate ingredient? Most of us understand we need food to fuel our day, but how much do we appreciate the value that food provides?

The concept of eating without taking the time to focus on our food is called mindless eating—and is probably something we’ve all encountered. As a Dietetics Student, I’ve been there. I can’t even count the amount of meals I’ve eaten (mindlessly) during classes, meetings, on the bus or doing homework. It’s hard living a busy lifestyle; whether you’re in school, at work, or taking care of children, a busy life means sacrifices. Unfortunately, these sacrifices come out during our meals—eating at our desk, snacking on the go—but can there be a benefit to taking the time to focus on our food? Let’s explore mindful eating to find out!

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness, is the act of being aware and focused on the present moment, and approaching this awareness with curiosity, non-judgement, and self-compassion. It can be used as a tool to observe wandering thoughts and gently refocus the mind, which understandably, can be tough in a world that appears to move so quickly.

Can you take a moment to focus your mind right now? What are all the thoughts travelling through your head this second? Is there a way to acknowledge those thoughts, but gently allow them to pass? If not, be kind to yourself—practicing mindfulness can take time.

OK, so how can I practice mindfulness when eating?

Let’s explore mindful eating—a way of using mindfulness to enjoy our foods, eat without judgement and capture an understanding of our senses. When was the last time you used all five senses to explore food?

  1. Sight - seeing the colours, sizes and textures around us
  2. Smell - providing us with the first clues of taste
  3. Taste - the flavours and how they can change within a single meal
  4. Touch - the texture, moisture and temperatures
  5. Sound - listening to the sounds foods make as we eat, whether they are crunchy, crispy or maybe they don’t make a sound at all

How about our bodies? Do our bodies make sound in response to food? Maybe hunger? It’s important to acknowledge that this is a judgement free zone: a zone where there is no evaluation about how you practice mindful eating, how frequently you practice or about when and where you practice. This is up to you—you know your body, your limits and your schedule; the key is discovering what works for you.

Feeling hunger and satiety: mindful eating

Mindful eating involves the use of all of our senses to consciously select foods that are both health-supporting and satiating. It takes the concepts of mindfulness, which allow us to acknowledge the physical and emotional response to specific foods (whether positive, negative or neutral) and the general experience of eating without judgement. Finally, it allows us to develop the ability to identify physical hunger and satiety cues1.

Do you try to eat when hungry or stop eating when satisfied? We may have grown accustomed to eating lunch at noon regardless of whether we are hungry or not. When we practice mindful eating, we begin to develop an understanding of the body’s natural cues to feel hunger and satiety.

Over time, practicing mindful eating can help us develop a healthy relationship with food. As we become more aware of our senses and environment, we can show ourselves kindness and compassion as we start to focus on the food in front of us.

I want to start incorporating mindfulness into my life—where do I start?

Start with an achievable goal—maybe the goal will be practicing mindful eating at one meal this week, or maybe it will be one meal this month. Maybe you will practice mindful eating at home or at work. The idea is to make a goal that fits your lifestyle. If it is not achievable, you will be less likely to stick with it. If you have a few minutes right now, take some time to gather how you can incorporate mindful eating into your day. Can you think of any strategies that will help you start incorporating mindfulness into your day?

I am going to start with lunch. For this month, I will make an effort to take the time to step away from my desk and appreciate my afternoon meal. I will take time to enjoy any aromas, flavours and feelings that come from the meal. Who is with me?

How can YOU start taking action today?

  1. Teachers: would you like to share a mindful eating approach with your students? 
  2. Not a teacher or want more information about mindful eating? Check out the Center for Mindful Eating, which includes a variety of resources such as mindful eating meditations and how to start your mindful eating practice.

By Carla Centola, year 5 dietetic student, with Joel Barohn, MSc, RD, Chef

References:

1. Warren, J., Smith, N. and Ashwell, M. (2017). A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutrition Research Reviews, 30(02), pp.272-283.

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