The definition of mindfulness is simply the art of being present in the mind. When applied to nutrition, mindfulness involves knowing exactly what we are putting into our body and the effects of the foods on our body, how it makes us feel mentally and physically and most importantly, being present when we are eating. This is something that we should absolutely apply to our nutrition.
To a degree, the vegan diet is mindful, as we are very aware of what we are putting into our body and where our food comes from, but this is only half of the story. There are increasing options for highly processed vegan foods, such as meat alternatives, chocolate, cheese and sweets. Whilst this is great for those looking to switch to a vegan diet and the occasional treat, this is a huge part of the majority of the modern vegan diet.
This has become a problem because these foods are highly processed meaning they don’t contain the essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients that our bodies need. On top of that, they usually contain saturated fats, sugars and simple carbohydrates, which wreak havoc on our physical and mental health.
Obesity is on the rise as a result of our mindless and unhealthy eating, along with life threatening diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Also, the media and the diet industry has made us all strive to be thin and make us believe that it is the only way to be healthy. This has lead many people to be stuck in the diet and binge cycle and in some cases has lead to eating disorders.
The good thing is you can now take back control of your eating habits and your health by practicing mindful eating and what’s more, you will begin to enjoy and appreciate food more than ever!
Why do so many people eat mindlessly?
Since birth, we are brought up in a world surrounded by junk food and unhealthy foods which most people see as normal.
People generally don’t have any knowledge of nutrition and how it can affect how you feel. On a psychological level there are many reasons which people eat for reasons other than actual hunger. This includes:
- Boredom – filling the void of free time with eating.
- Anxiety – when we are worried we fulfill the need for survival with eating.
- Depression – with a full stomach we feel more safe and comfortable.
- Availability – we are surrounded by attractive, unhealthy foods which give us a quick boost in energy and mood.
- Addiction – foods such as dairy, sugar and refined carbohydrates are addictive. When we eat them one day, we tend to crave more of them.
Unfortunately, in our culture it has become socially acceptable to overeat, so it is now a common cycle to binge eat and then starve ourselves to try and compensate. This results in yo-yo dieting as it is very easy to gain weight back after dieting, leading to self esteem issues, depression and eating disorders.
What are the symptoms of mindless eating?
There are many reasons for mindless eating but recognising the symptoms is key to making a change. Here are some of the symptoms of mindless eating.
- Finishing a meal and realising you barely tasted it.
- You normally eat while reading, watching TV or surfing the Internet.
- Feeling guilty about what or how much you eat.
- Sticking to set meal times – whether you are hungry or not.
- Eating when bored or because of emotions.
Benefits of mindful eating.
We have touched upon the symptoms of mindless eating, so now you are probably wondering what the benefits of mindful eating are. Here are just some of the benefits you can achieve through eating mindfully.
- Getting the best nutrition will mean that your physical and mental health will improve in many ways.
- You will leave the diet and binge cycle behind.
- Food will become a friend, not an enemy and you will enjoy it more than ever.
- You will reach your body’s optimal weight with little effort.
- Energy and motivation levels will soar, making exercise easier and more enjoyable.
- Digestive health will improve.
- Can help in overcoming eating disorders.
- It will help curb excess hunger and food cravings as well as gaining back control over your life.
So how do I start practicing mindful eating?
It can take years to master the art of mindful eating, so it is important to treat it as a lifestyle change, not a diet and to be kind to yourself. You can take things as slowly as you need and celebrate every victory, no matter how small.
Be prepared for ups and downs – this way you can remain confident and on track where you previously may have turned to binge eating.
Be still and mindful – sit down whenever you are eating. Concentrate on that task and savour the experience. Don’t be tempted to turn on the TV or look at your phone.
Eat when you are hungry – it is vital to listen to your body and eat when it physically needs food. Be aware of other types of hunger such as mental or emotional hunger. This becomes easier the more you practise.
Prepare meals in advance – cook batches of healthy food that you can take to work or eat when you are busy. This will minimise the temptation of unhealthy fast foods which are easily accessible.
Don’t avoid snacks – don’t allow yourself to get too hungry or you will be more likely to overeat. Keep healthy and nutritious snacks on hand such as nuts and fruits.
Drink plenty of water – the importance of water can not be overstated. It is a vital part of our life and keeping healthy, helping to deliver nutrients to the body, detoxify the body of harmful or unnecessary substances and also helps us to control our eating.
Spread out your meals – it is common tradition to eat your biggest meal in the evening, leaving us hungry and more likely to overeat at the end of the day. Eating a larger breakfast and lunch can help avoid this and make evening hunger less intense. You can find some healthy vegan breakfast ideas here!
Changing your habits
Shift your focus – Let the outside of your body take a step back and focus on what is going on inside. Your body should be seen as a friend that you should take care of. This will help to get rid of the self destructive habits which are making your mental and physical health suffer.
Recognise hunger – When you are feeling hungry, ask yourself what type of hunger it is. This may be emotional hunger, lack of energy, thirst, mind hunger or chew therapy. By recognising this you can create an appropriate response to the feeling.
Be present – When you eat, take a moment to show gratitude for your food. Take time to imagine how the food will make you feel and will be distributed through the body. Involve the senses, how it looks, feels, smells and of course how it tastes. Chew slowly, around 20 times and eat slowly enough to recognise when you are full.
Choosing the right foods for your body.
Targeted eating is the idea of eating the right foods for optimum nutrition, and specific foods based on the needs of your own body.
For generations, we have been taught about the food pyramid which incorporates meat and dairy, however the potential health risks of eating animal products is becoming increasingly researched and supported. Also, farming is being done on an industrial level, and it has been shown that animals feel and emote just like humans. The general conditions that farm animals are living under and their quality of life is far from ethical, so it’s clear to see that eating animal products is not the best thing for our physical and mental wellbeing.
For optimal mindful nutrition, the food pyramid should be adapted in the following ways as a general guide.
Fats – obtained from nuts, seeds and plant oils, not foods high in saturated fats. 1 small handful of nuts or seeds, or 1 teaspoon of plant oil should be enough to maintain the daily needs of an adult. Excellent healthy sources of fat include flaxseeds, hemp seeds, almonds and flaxseed oil.
Protein – Plant provide all of the protein we need to survive and thrive, containing high quality protein and no saturated fat. 3 servings of protein per day is sufficient from sources like legumes, quinoa, pulses and nuts. You can find more about vegan protein sources in my previous blog post and some delicious high protein vegan snacks here.
Complex carbohydrates – these foods will keep you full for longer compared to simple carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour. Complex carbohydrates are in their whole form so they release energy on a slow, steady basis, maintaining mood and energy levels. You should aim for 4 servings per day of complex carbohydrates from sources like oats, brown rice, wholegrain cereals, wholegrain bread and pasta.
Fruit and vegetables – you should fill your plate with lots of healthy fruits and vegetables, they keep the mind and body healthy by providing essential vitamins, minerals and enzymes which have vast benefits on health and wellbeing. You should aim for at least 5 servings per day from a variety of different fruits and vegetables.
I hope this article helps you begin your mindful eating journey, or even understand how the mind and body are affected by not just what, but also how we eat.
Remember, it takes time to to master the art of mindful eating, but once you have, it becomes second nature and you will soon notice the difference in your physical and mental wellbeing!
If you have any questions about mindful eating feel free to ask in the comments below. Also, if you are interested in taking on a 4 week mindful eating challenge or one to one coaching you can contact me below to kick-start your journey to a wholesome, mindful way of living!