Can you recall your last meal in detail? The colours and textures? The mixture of aromas? What the food tasted like? The sensation of eating?
If you can't, you're not alone. The distractions of modern life, can contribute to a lack of awareness about what you are eating.
At Five Good Friends, we know that there are many contributing factors to overall health and wellbeing. What you drink and eat, how you exercise, sleep quality and quantity, medications and vitamins are all factors. It is important also to look at the social and cultural factors, including your community, friendships and purpose.
Eating with awareness is a great way to start understanding the health benefits of an approach called mindful eating. Mindless eating can cause you to become out of touch with your hunger cues and overeat or eat food that leaves you feeling unsatisfied.
You may also find yourself making food decisions for reasons other than hunger. People who feel stressed, bored, or lonely, sometimes turn to food to fill the void.
Mindful eating (for example, paying attention to our food, on purpose, moment by moment, without judgment) is an approach to food that focuses on individuals' sensual awareness of the food and their experience of the food.
How to reduce non-hungry eating
Non-hungry eating is when we eat for reasons other than true physical hunger. It can include things like overeating at a party because the food is just there, grazing during the day due to boredom, picking at leftovers even though we have finished a meal, and bingeing to help with emotional stress.
To avoid non-hungry eating, it’s important to become aware of your emotions by facing them rather than avoiding them. Sitting with negative emotions can be uncomfortable however it’s important to deal with the underlying issues.
The next time you find yourself eating when you’re not physically hungry, stop and check in on how you are feeling. Write down your thoughts and emotions in a journal. Over time, this will provide you with better insight into what is causing you to reach for food to soothe your negative emotions.
Come up with other non-food related strategies to deal with your emotions. For example, go for a walk, ring a friend, put on your favourite music, engage in a mindful practice such as knitting, or meditation.
Be sure to reach out to a mental health professional if you need additional support.
How does mindful eating help?
If you tap into your emotions but are still craving comfort food, try eating mindfully. Mindful eating teaches you to tune into your hunger cues and encourages you to eat more slowly, so you don’t overeat.
Blue Zones are places in the world where the healthiest and longest-living communities can be found. One of the factors attributed to their longevity is that people in the Blue Zones stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full. Eating slowly, with awareness, gives your brain time to register when you are full.
Eating slowly and chewing your food thoroughly to break it down, makes it easier for your body to digest and absorb nutrients. This is especially important as you age.
Eating mindfully also allows you to savour food and rediscover the pleasure of eating.
How to eat mindfully
To practice mindful eating, try this mindful eating exercise.
Take a small piece of your favourite food.
- Hold it in your hand (or on a spoon) and look at it, as if for the first time. Notice the colour and any ridges or contours. Touch the item of food and feel its texture. Is it smooth, rough, cool, or soft?
- Next, bring the item to your nose and take in any aromas. Notice any sensations that may be taking place in your mouth or stomach.
- Now bring it slowly to your mouth and place it on your tongue. Allow your tongue to register the taste before you begin chewing. Is it sweet, sour, or salty?
- Take your first bite and notice the changes in taste and texture as you continue to chew. Chew slowly and savour the experience by continuing to pay attention to the flavours and sensations.
- When you have finished, consider how you are feeling about the experience. Are you satisfied, did you find it enjoyable or are you still hungry? If you are still hungry, how much more do you need to satisfy your appetite?
Eating with awareness may take a bit of practice but it has many flow-on effects for your health!