How often do you sit and eat — not while you scroll through social media, read a book or commute to work, but actually sit quietly and focus on the food you’re consuming?
We live in such a high-speed, grab-and-go society that often our food consumption is shoehorned in while we’re doing something else. Your work lunch is ‘al desko’, and you often find yourself juggling your sandwich with a mountain of emails.
Such little focus on how you eat your food can lead to unhealthy habits, such as not paying attention to whether you are hungry or not, whether you’re full or not, and feeling less satisfied after eating because you were rushed, preoccupied or anxious.
When you do this you’re consuming food with your sympathetic nervous system switched on, making it more likely your body will store most of it as fat as well as creating the potential for indigestion.
Plus, the stress hormones which raise your blood sugar will make it more likely you’ll reach for that sugary snack later on.
The art of mindful eating
That being said, one of the best ways to develop a healthy relationship with food is by practising the art of mindful eating. When you decide to start eating mindfully, you become present and aware of your feelings when you’re selecting what to eat.
You engage all your senses and pay attention to your food through all the processes of buying, preparing and, most importantly: eating. You recognise your triggers for feeling ‘hungry’ as well as how to identify the difference between emotional and physical hunger.
It’s not about the rules and restrictions of dieting or losing weight, but about becoming fully aware of what, why, and how you eat.
Ask yourself, are you really hungry, or is it your boredom telling you that you need to eat? Emotional eating develops an unhealthy relationship with food because you start relying on it to comfort your feelings, rather than see it as nourishment.
Here are some tips to eat more mindfully as a means to make wiser choices, and free yourself from unhealthy habits to get the most out of your food.
To eat mindfully, start by shopping mindfully. Write a shopping list to avoid buying things you don’t need and avoid impulsive spending, especially on those sugary processed foods. Identify and acknowledge your cravings, but try to make the conscious decision not to buy them. If you have pre-packaged, ready-to-eat food in the house, you’ll be more inclined to eat on the go.
And that means stop everything. Sit down, preferably at a table or away from your desk, but most importantly stop doing what you were doing beforehand. Don’t eat on the school run, or while you’re walking your dog, and definitely not when you’re driving. Clear a space, free of mess, and lay down some cutlery. Make time for food and allow yourself to enjoy it.
It’s best if you’re relaxed before you eat because this shifts your nervous system (also known as the “rest and digest” system), allowing it to do its thing and extract maximum nutrition from your meal. Your posture is also important, so be sure to sit up tall and not slouch, as a bad posture can send stress signals to your nervous system.
Ditch the distractions and be in the moment: be sure to put away the phone, turn off the TV and save the book for later. Sit down at the dining table and intend to be fully present while eating, and really focus on enjoying the food. Take some time to look at your meal, smell the aromas, and pay attention to the textures and flavours.
Slow down so you can really savour your meal. In order to maintain a healthy digestive system experts advise chewing your food 32 times per bite, and while this doesn’t mean you have to sit counting each time, simply just chew your food until it loses all texture before you swallow it. Let your mouth rest before taking another bite.
Take a pause and check in with yourself to gauge how full you are. After eating, sit still at the dining table for a few minutes and question if you’ve eaten enough, not enough or too much. To know when to stop eating, listen to your body for signs of fullness and satisfaction. Ask yourself how much you enjoyed your meal, what you liked and what you didn’t.
To sum up
When you take time away from your desk, without any distractions to sit and enjoy a healthy meal, you’ll benefit from better focus, concentration, memory and creativity, boosting your productivity and freeing yourself of the unhealthy eating habits we have all fallen victim to.