Once a mind-body meditative mystery, mindfulness is now a trending technique that may improve the health and well-being of people with diabetes. Derived from meditation practices of Buddhism, mindfulness teaches us to live in the present moment and to observe our thoughts and actions in a non-judgmental way. Not only is it a useful technique to better manage our emotions, it has also been shown to be effective in managing eating habits too. By bringing our awareness back to the basic experience of eating, we can break those less healthy habits and get back on track (particularly with the winter temptations and comfort foods right now!). Anyone can practice mindfulness and benefit from it. Here are five simple tips to help you eat more mindfully, that you don’t need to bend backwards for:
1. Tune into your body signals
Studies have shown that emotion-related overeating can lead to disengagement with your physical hunger cues, and eating becomes driven by your emotions and external cues like seeing food. This can also lead to poor food choices – often high in unhealthy fats, sugar and salt. So before you decide to eat, stop and ask yourself: “am I really hungry?” and if so, “what food do I want to eat?”. Thirst can sometimes be mistaken as hunger, so drinking a glass of water before you decide to eat can be useful.
2. Make meals an event
With work, study and family life, we often have “too much on our plate” for a proper sit-down meal. This may mean eating at the kitchen counter, at your desk or even in the car without actually tasting and taking notice of the food you’re eating. So it’s time to clear our plates … for our food! Immerse yourself in the experience of eating – set up the table, enjoy plating up your food decoratively and switch off distractions like TVs and smart devices (i.e. anything with a screen!). All these little things help you to set the scene to enjoy your food with all your senses – focus on each mouthful and the aroma, colours, textures (moist, dry, sticky) and taste (too spicy, salty) of the different components of your food.
3. Pace yourself and stop before you’re stuffed
It’s all too easy to scoff down a delicious meal, only to realise at the end that you’re awfully stuffed and uncomfortable. Chew well, put down your cutlery between mouthfuls and sip a glass of water before your next bite. By slowing down, you give your body the time to relay satiety signals from your gut to your brain, which prevent you from overeating. And gauge your hunger every few minutes as you eat. On a scale of 0 to 10, how hungry do you feel now?
4. Ditch the clean plate brigade!
You may have been disciplined into eating everything on your plate when you were a child (“think about the kids in Africa!”) but it’s time to take control of your own portions. Plate up your servings before sitting down and pack any leftovers away to prevent yourself from going back for more. Eating straight out of the packet or container are also traps to overeating as our hands often get stuck into “packet-to-mouth” autopilot.
5. And finally, be the guru
You don’t have to be a meditation fanatic to do this – by simply pausing before and after your meal to acknowledge and appreciate the time and effort that went into your food, you become more connected with your food and where it came from and increases your awareness of its relation to the environment, society and to your own health.
This article was co-authored by Michelle Hsu who is currently studying her Master in Nutrition and Dietetics at The University of Sydney.