In ‘Mindful Eating’ Amanda Watts exhorts you to pay attention
If you have ever groaned, ‘Ughh I ate too much…,’ if you’ve had to unbutton your jeans post meal or lie on the floor, then this is the column for you. How aware are you of what you eat and drink? And by aware, I mean how much do you notice the food actually going into your mouth? We get so much information about what we should eat, even when we are not looking for it. But what about how we eat?
Most of us have done it. We’ve had a long, psyched day at the cliff. We haven’t taken enough food with us, or redpoint nerves have made it hard to eat and we’ve climbed through that hunger window. At the end of the day we stagger back to the car dreaming about eating the world. On the way home, we have a pretty good go at achieving this, stopping at the first servo we see and grabbing something from every aisle and fridge. It’s easy to eat with our eyes, completely overriding any messages from our stomachs about being full. There’s a bit of groaning about eating too much, that uncomfortable, need-to-lie-down feeling and promises to ourselves to never eat that much again. Which brings us to mindful eating, the antidote to our eye’s gluttony. At it turns out, it’s also a gateway to feeling better, being healthier, having more choice, helping the environment and even climbing better. Who wouldn’t want that?
Mindfulness generally conjures up an image of someone sitting in the lotus position, in a quiet room, free from any distractions. The kind of mindfulness we want to apply to our eating is something you can do anytime, anywhere, with or without the lotus position.
Mindfulness is paying full, non-judgemental attention to what is going on both inside and around you. You notice the thoughts and feelings you have and the sensations of taste, touch, smell, sight and sound. Research tells us that the impact of mindfulness can be profound. When we apply mindfulness to eating, it is simply paying attention to our food at each step, from shopping through to eating. In contrast, you can think about the times you demolished an entire packet of chips without even noticing how they taste while you drive to the climbing gym.
Our mindless-eating training can often start accidentally when we are young. Instead of being encouraged to tune into our hunger cues, our well-meaning parents teach us to eat what is on our plates, while our loving grandparents start the emotional eating routine cheering us up with a bit of chocolate or an ice-cream. Food is often used as a bargaining tool or to demonstrate love. When we grow up we are trained to eat the portions a food manufacturer decides fits into their packaging best or what a restaurant serves on a plate.
Mindful eating gives our stomachs back the power.
Research reveals that mindful eating helps us enjoy the food we eat more, manage our weight, digest food better, control binge eating and be aware of the impact of our food on the world around us. When we eat mindfully we give ourselves the opportunity to make a choice about what we eat and how much. It allows us to listen to whether our body is telling us if we are hungry or full, or if we are actually just thirsty, or eating because we are bored, upset or tired. Mindful eating helps us eat until we are satisfied, not stuffed, and stops us eating just in case we may be hungry later.
There are a couple of mindful-eating exercises that you can try to get more in touch with whether you are hungry or full.
Choose a piece of food you enjoy eating (we will use a piece of chocolate but you could pick any food you prefer).
- Imagine you have never eaten chocolate.
- Work through each of your senses to tune in and examine the food:
Touch: hold the chocolate in your hand. How heavy is it, is it greasy or dry, does it have a texture, is it soft or firm?
Sight: notice the colour, are there any shapes?
Smell: does it smell sweet, how else does the chocolate smell?
Taste: put the chocolate in your mouth but don’t chew straight away. Try to notice everything you can about the chocolate in your mouth. When you start to chew, where do you taste the flavours? Is it at the back of your mouth, the front of your tongue, do you favour one side when you chew?
Sound: what does it sound like when you chew the chocolate?
- Lastly, notice the thoughts that pop up when you’re eating the chocolate but try to let them go and focus back on the chocolate and specifically whatever sense you were working with.
Before you start eating your usual breakfast, lunch or dinner, stop and check in with how hungry you feel. Is your stomach rumbling? Are you looking forward to eating your meal? How does the meal look? Start eating the meal and stop when you have eaten only a third of it and ask yourself how you feel (are you full, hungry, comfortable, satisfied, stuffed?). How does the food taste and feel (sweet, salty, fatty, gritty, soft, yummy, etc.)? Are you enjoying the meal? Stop again at two thirds finished and go through the same questions and repeat the exercise once more when you have finished.
Mindful eating practices for everyday:
- Plan your food. This starts with shopping. Why are you buying the food you’ve chosen? How much time are you spending in the middle of the supermarket where all the processed food lives? How much packaging (e.g. single use plastic) is there? Are there any other options?
- Try not to skip meals. Skipping meals can make you ravenous, which usually means that when you do it you are focused on stuffing anything you can into your mouth.
- Before you start eating, check if you are actually hungry or thirsty and what it is you want to eat.
- Cover your plate with veggies and salad first. Then add small portions of the other foods. You can always go back for more.
- Sit down to eat. And try to just eat. Leave your phone and work aside for a few minutes. Try to give yourself five minutes of eating quietly before you engage with everything and everyone around you.
- Be present and bring your five senses to the table.
- Check in while you are eating and try to discern whether you are full or what your hunger signals are telling you.
- Try to spare a thought for where your food came from and how it got to the plate in front of you.
Mindful eating is not a diet. It’s a way of slowing down in the especially busy world we live in so as we might recognise, reconnect with and experience the food we eat. As you add in some simple mindful eating practices and the way you eat starts to change, you may find your thoughts about what you want to eat and buy also begin to evolve for the better.
Sponsored by Evolv, Black Diamond and Beal, Amanda Watts is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Accredited Nutritionist and SDA Sports Dietitian at Thrive.