Here’s why being more “present” when you eat can make you bigger and leaner
How often do you eat meals or snacks whilst scrolling through your phone. Then, before you know it, the food is all gone without you stopping for a second to appreciate the taste, flavours, textures and all the other factors that make eating so amazing!
Indeed, eating whilst in a distracted state, such as checking social media on your phone, or watching TV on your sofa, is one of the biggest causes of over-eating. And the more food you eat that your body doesn’t need, the more likely you are to store all this extra energy as fat. But there is a simple fix to beat over-eating and to start shifting belly fat!
The mindfulness connection
Being mindful during meals makes a big difference to your body composition, and your health and happiness. Here’s why.
Mindfulness is simply the practice of paying attention (in a non-judgemental way) to an activity. It’s a very effective method to manage stress: one study found regular mindfulness meditation actually changes the structure of the brain, creating more neural connections, which might protect us from depression and dementia.
Ultimately, being more mindful gives you a different perspective on your thoughts and feelings and helps you approach situations in a calmer, more thoughtful way. And being mindful when eating can have a positive impact on your physical and mental health, without requiring too much effort.
Take your time
When you eat mindfully you pay attention to the appearance, texture and taste of your food, and your body’s hunger signals. It takes time for your brain to register signals from your stomach’s stretch receptors, so mindful eating can prevent overeating by slowing you down and making you more aware of how you’re feeling (regularly overeating can blunt your body’s fullness signals and contribute to weight gain). Mindfulness can also enhance the pleasure you derive from food, so you’re less likely to overeat because you’ve taken time to really enjoy your meal.
Being more mindful also makes it easier to eat a wider variety of foods, and being non-judgemental makes you open to trying new foods. This is important because you might be missing out on something you’ll really like, and the more varied your diet the lower your risk of any nutrient deficiencies.
How to be more mindful
You don’t need any special equipment or apps to begin mindful eating – in fact, the fewer distractions you have the better! Here’s how to get started:
1 Turn off the TV and put away your phone
We’re so used to watching or reading while eating that this might feel difficult at first, so really focus on the colours and smells on your plate.
2 Sit at a table
This will help you focus on the food in front of you and emphasises that mealtimes are an important activity, not a chore to be squeezed in where possible
3 Start small
Being mindful at mealtimes takes time and practice and you will get distracted. Begin by aiming to take just one mindful mouthful per meal. Here’s how:
• Take a moment to look at the food on the plate, noticing the smells, colours and textures.
• Pick up a forkful or spoonful and take a moment to notice the qualities of the food.
• Take the bite and chew slowly, noticing the different flavours and textures and how they change as you chew.
• Put down your cutlery. This helps you focus on swallowing this mouthful before starting the next.
• After you swallow, be aware of the food moving to your stomach and how it affects your level of hunger.
If you are new to mindful eating you can continue eating in this way, or return to your old eating habits. But do try to add in an extra mindful mouthful each day until you eat a full mindful meal. Just one mindful meal or snack a day will improve your relationship with food and help you listen to and understand your body better.
Eating when distracted reduces your enjoyment of food and increases the risk of overeating and emotional eating. But practising slow, mindful eating, chewing every mouthful properly, will heighten your enjoyment of food, improve digestion and help prevent overeating.