By Andrew Raines, Education Manager at Vega (myvega.com)
If you’ve had the pleasure of sharing a meal with me, it may have appeared that I was being forced to finish eating under threat of having my food taken away from me. I’d take a large bite, gulp it down, and move onto the next bite as quickly as possible. If finishing the meal was a race, I often won. My reward was waiting for my dinner guests to finish their meal. They’d take small bites, chew slowly, openly savouring how delicious their meal is. This happened day in and day out, until I learned about the benefits of eating mindfully. Now that I know mindful eating can be beneficial in many ways — from easing digestion to making you more in tune with your hunger and fullness cues, I have moved away from mindless eating.
Why do we eat?
This seems like a very simple question — we need food. We need macronutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. We need micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. The more active our lifestyle, the more of these nutrients we need. To survive, we must eat.
While we need to eat to live, it’s not the only reason we eat. We celebrate with food! Whether it’s a birthday, wedding, graduation, or job promotion, food will always be involved. We use food as a reason to socialize and spend time with our loved ones. Let’s not forget, food tastes good! Unfortunately, there are also some negative reasons that we might turn to food. We can probably all remember instances where we have turned to food because we felt unhappy. We see food as comforting, leading to emotional eating. There are many different reason why we eat — what truly matters is how we eat.
What is mindless eating?
Ever forget that you just ate? It’s probably because you were eating mindlessly. Most often mindless eating happens when we’re rushed, multitasking, or bored. Ever have a morning where you simply grab a piece of toast or a bar as you run out the door? You might eat while driving to work and take bites between changing lanes, fiddling with the radio, and honking at the driver that just cut you off. Being rushed leads to multitasking during a meal — removing the mindful component of eating.
Another example of mindless eating is eating while in a trance. You’re craving an evening snack so you head to the kitchen and grab a bowl of your favorite munchies. You make a bowl of popcorn, drizzle on some coconut oil, and top it with good quality sea salt and nutritional yeast. As you’re watching TV you reach your hand in the bowl and take a bite, then reach in for another bite, and another — suddenly you reach your hand in only to find an empty bowl. Oops! Regardless of why mindless eating happens, when you eat mindlessly, you lose touch with your natural hunger and fullness signals — causing you to eat more. You may experience some digestive stress as well, since your body is too preoccupied to spend extra energy on digestion.
How to eat mindfully
Mindful eating is being aware of what, why, and how you eat. It’s an awareness of why you’re craving food, as well as your hunger signals before (and during) each meal. Mindful eating involves avoiding distraction and concentrating on the flavors and textures of each bite. To practice mindful eating, grab a bite-size piece of your favorite food (I suggest a piece of banana), and follow the steps below:
- Before eating, pause and take a deep breath in through your nose, and slowly exhale.
- Take your piece of food and hold it between your fingers. Experience the texture of the food and take in the colors. Bring the food to your nose and be aware of the different scents this food offers.
- Close your eyes, place the food on your tongue and close your mouth without chewing. Move the food around your mouth and taste the different flavors. Be aware of what your tongue is doing while you chew! If you’re using a piece of banana, salivary amylase (the enzyme found in your saliva) will already be breaking down the starches found in the banana.
- Chew the piece of food three times and pause. Continue to chew the food but do not swallow it until you have chewed it a minimum of 25 times! This will create a paste-like consistency that will require minimal work for the rest of your digestive system.
- Take a deep breath, and repeat.
Every time I lead a mindful eating exercise, I’m always asked the same questions: do you eat mindfully all the time? The answer is simply NO! Like everyone else, I lead a busy and active life and unfortunately don’t have time to eat all of my meals in a completely mindful way. I challenge you to try to eat least one mindful meal per day.
Andrew Raines is an advocate for clean, plant based sports nutrition, and is a former competitive kickboxer and soccer player turned ultra-marathon runner. As a coach and trainer, Andrew thrives on seeing people boost their performance with plant-based power. He’s a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Certified Plant-Based Culinary Professional and has a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from eCornell and the T. Colin Campbell Foundation.