After mindlessly bingeing our way through COVID lockdown, now more than ever we need to relearn the benefits of mindful eating. Founder of Mindology app Claire Aristides, shares how to turn every mealtime into a mini mediation.
Chances are, you’ve heard of mindfulness – a practice that helps you focus on (and be in) the present moment with intention and purpose – and without judgement. You may have even incorporated some simple mindful practices into your life to help you calm your mind and nervous system.
And, as Claire Aristides, Founder and Creator of the Mindology App (an app to calm and empower the mindset) says, there are many everyday activities that can be used for mindfulness – you just need to be aware of them. “Counting rosary beads, cooking, knitting, colouring books, and gardening – all these are all forms of mindfulness.” So, of course it can also easily be applied to your meals.
“Combining the principles of mindfulness with eating, means being aware of each and every mouthful you take, chewing slowly and savouring the flavours, taking in the process and joy of the food you are eating,” says Claire. What happens then is that instead mindlessly scoffing in front of the TV, you actually begin to enjoy, and relish the food in front of you.
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Change the way you think about food
Actually tasting your food sounds kind of amazing, right? Well that’s not the only benefit of mindful eating.
“Taking time to intentionally eat can help with the impulses of simply shoving something into your mouth,” Claire says.
“Before you eat think how this food choice will help you, allowing yourself to become aware of the positive effects of your food choices.”
So rather than just caving to the cravings, you’ll also learn to be more self-aware of what you’re eating, and the effect it has on your body as a result.
It can also help with any negative feelings you may have about food (as evidenced in this study), and as Claire says it “replaces habitual food choices, with awareness, improved self-control, and positive emotions.”
In addition, research has shown that it can take 20 minutes for your brain to register that it’s full, so eating mindfully will help slow the process down and give your brain (and body) the space to recognise its full signals so you don’t overeat.
Mindful eating: a beginner’s guide
So, why do we need this in 2020 more than ever? Well, the pandemic wasn’t just bad for our physical health, it had some serious mental health repercussions too – both of which can be helped by a mindful practice. Between the comfort eating and the elevated stress, no one was left untouched by COVID-19.
“Think of mindful eating as a powerful tool to regain control of your eating habits which might have turned negative during this stressful year,” says Claire. Not sure where to start? Claire offers these tips:
1. Eat slowly and without distraction
That means no phones and no TV – really.
2. Listen to physical hunger cues
And eat only until you’re full.
3. Understand your triggers
Learn to distinguish between true hunger and non-hunger triggers, like boredom or thirst.
4. Engage your senses
Notice the colours, smells, sounds, textures, and flavours on your plate. Your food is more than just fuel… think about the journey it took to even get on your plate.
5. Feel the effects
What does it do to your emotions and body? How does it feel?
What if I fall off the mindful bandwagon?
Don’t stress. This is not a race, nor is it something you need to master. They call it a mindful practice because it’s something you work at constantly… you practise it. Some days will be great, other days the family block of Cadbury will mysteriously disappear during one episode of The Bachelor. It’s not the end of the world, and you can get back on track.
The key, as Claire says is to be aware of your triggers. “Being mindful helps you to increase your awareness of triggers that make you want to eat, despite not being actually hungry, which is often the time when you choose foods that hold no nutritional value too. By knowing your triggers, you can give yourself the time and freedom to choose how to react.”
To ease yourself back onto the bandwagon, she suggests starting with one meal per day instead of trying to do all of them. You could even start with a snack (like an apple) and work your way up from there. You could also try having a mindful eating buddy who you share the experience with (what you’re eating, how you’re feeling). And of course the Mindology App also has a ‘Mindful Eating’ audio session for those wanting more guidance in the practice.
Claire Aristides is a clinical hypnotherapist and the founder and creator of the Mindology app. Connect with her on Instagram.