Should I Practice Mindful Eating?
What comes to mind when you think of mindfulness or being mindful? It’s probably someone sitting in a quiet room trying to empty their mind of whatever is going on in their life. If you have ever tried to do this, you’ll understand how difficult it can be, and thankfully it isn’t exactly mindfulness.
Being mindful means being present and in the moment – you can acknowledge what may be going on in your life, but instead you focus on the here and now.
Why should we do this when we eat?
Well, let’s take a look.
Stress and Digestion
Our nervous system is like a radar, always scanning for things that may upset our balance. It is looking for a threat. In response to this threat, our body mounts what is known as the stress response. This is a redirection of resources throughout our body in order to deal with it – blood is sent to our limbs and brain, and slowed down to less important functions.
Like our digestive system.
Stress is known to affect how our gut works. It slows food transit which is why stress is often associated with heartburn or acid reflux and it also reduces gastric secretions, leaving food undigested and utilisation of nutrients, impaired. For food that is already in the system, it can speed up food transit resulting in diarrhoea.
If you have ever heard traumatic news, you may have felt “sick to your stomach” and this is because stress directly affects gut function.
Stress fires up the sympathetic nervous system. Sending a cascade of hormones pumping through the body to efficiently manage the threat. When the threat has been resolved, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, returning function to digestion. This is known as the rest and digest phase.
But, when you are in a chronic state of stress, the parasympathetic nervous system isn’t given the opportunity to kick in, leaving you with poor digestive function and subsequently, poor nutrient absorption and utilisation.
This is where mindful eating can be a game changer.
Mindfulness in a basic sense is simply about bringing your awareness to what you are sensing and feeling at that moment.
Mindful eating is therefore about bringing awareness to what you’re eating. This is a very simplistic view of it, but that’s really all that is necessary for this purpose.
Why is this important?
When you are focussing on what is in front of you, there isn’t much room for thinking about anything else (those things that are stressing you out). In doing so, you prime your parasympathetic nervous system which helps return the body to homeostasis.
Mindfulness is known to stimulate the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is responsible for many functions including:
– Satiety (hunger),
– Satiation (fullness),
– Energy metabolism,
– Secretion of gastric acid and digestive enzymes,
– Gastric capacity,
Mindful eating is a little bit like giving your digestive system the time and space it needs to do its job properly.
And it can be as simple as sitting down, at a table with a chair and eating.
Not watching TV, not catching up on emails, not on the phone, not eating it running out of the door, not spilling it in your lap in the car or taking a bite between keyboard taps at your office desk.
If our brains are to know that we are full, it needs to be available to receive that information from the gut, not busy coordinating next week’s meeting.
If we are to utilise nutrients in their entirety, our bodies don’t need to be jolted into a stress response simply because we’re running out of the door.
So, for your next meal, sit down at a table and eat. No phone, no TV. No emails. Just you and your food.
Enjoy the taste.
Appreciate the different textures.