How can mindfulness be applied to eating habits?

Deciding to change your diet for the better is the healthy choice, but many of us will know all too well that there's a big difference between talking about it and actually achieving it.

For most people, changing their eating habits is one of the hardest decisions to stick with – but have you thought about how mindful eating could impact your food choices?

Being just a little more present in your eating habits and taking a more considered approach could help you pull off that big change in your diet and stay on the culinary straight and narrow.

Mindfulness: What’s it all about?

The practice of being mindful is actually rooted in Buddhism. Buddhist practice teaches that there is an Eightfold Path, and the concept of ‘Right Mindfulness’ is usually the seventh step.

Mindfulness is all about teaching yourself to be fully aware of, and present in, the current moment. In today’s busy and fast-paced world, it can be all too easy to find yourself juggling multiple tasks at once without really paying the proper attention to any of them.

With the advances in technology and the internet, we’re also becoming used to getting what we want fast without having to stop and think about it.

Mindfulness, as practiced by Buddhists, is about being fully present without distractions, daydreams, concerns or fears. To be mindful you must pay attention to exactly what is happening in the current moment, seeing everything as it is without trying to judge it for better or worse.

How can mindfulness be applied to eating habits?

The concept of mindfulness can actually be applied to the way we eat as well. Instead of following a set of dietary rules, mindful eating is about consciously savouring every bite and listening to the things your body is telling you.

With the growing trend of fast food, convenience stores and the ability to get whatever we want to eat, whenever we want it, many of us are no longer consciously thinking about what we consume.

This can lead to feeling bloated and unsatisfied with a meal, or a loss of the ability to really appreciate the tastes and flavours of a dish. When we eat without really thinking about it, this opens up the potential for emotional eating, overeating or even undereating.

You might find yourself munching on a snack without really tasting it, or eating not as a response to feeling hunger but as a reaction to emotions such as boredom, stress or anxiety.

To be mindful in your eating, the first step is to listen to your body. If it’s not exhibiting signs of hunger, you won’t find any satisfaction in food. It’s important to recognise both when you’re hungry and when you’re full, so you can give your body just the right amount of fuel it needs.

If you’ve developed unhealthy eating habits, such as snacking late at night or skipping breakfast, evaluate your routine and think about the real reasons behind these patterns.

When you are hungry, try to satisfy those cravings with healthier alternatives. For example, instead of a donut in the morning you could try homemade muesli or Greek yoghurt with fresh fruit.

Sugary or over-processed snacks can be substituted for fresh fruit or vegetables and dip, and it helps to plan your meals so your body gets the energy it needs throughout the day. That might mean topping up your iron intake with green vegetables at lunch, or snacking on a handful of nuts for an energy boost in the late afternoon.

Eating without distractions

The other important component of mindful eating is being able to enjoy every bite. That can’t happen if you’re distracted by what’s on TV or the computer screen, so try to sit down when you’re eating and focus on what’s on your plate.

Take time to smell the aromas of your meal, enjoy the company you have or even the way the food looks on your plate while you eat. With each bite, try to think about all of the different tastes and flavours you’re getting and remember to stop when you feel comfortably full.

With some mindful eating techniques, you might find yourself being able to manage your weight and improve your health naturally.

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