Before Covid-19 came along, we were leading busy lives, and therefore fast eating and snacking on the run was a way of life. Now, we may have slowed things down a bit and are finding ourselves spending a lot more time at home (and in the kitchen). Eating without paying attention to what and how much we are consuming can result in a host of much bigger health problems; weight gain, suboptimal energy levels and poor appetite. What can make it even more difficult is the fact that we are faced with an abundance of tempting snacks and fast foods – easily available wherever we go. Due to us spending more time at home (covid-19) during lockdown, we are also tempted by a lot of snacks at home.
We also have distractions such as televisions, computers and smart phones that shift our attention away from the actual act of eating.
What should I do?
By actively choosing and consciously ensuring you eat mindfully, you can slow down and restore your attention, making eating an intentional act instead of an automatic activity or reaction to the food immediately available.
So how is mindful eating defined?
It is choosing healthy food that you enjoy, that will awaken all your senses and allow you to find pleasure in your food by smelling, chewing, tasting, swallowing and savouring each bite. This will contribute to you being consciously aware of your level of hunger and fullness.
The goal of mindful eating is to support the shift of focusing on external thinking about food, to explore the eating experience. The focus is more on HOW to eat, and a bit less on WHAT to eat.
Michelle May, a registered medical doctor in the United States and founder of the mindful eating workshops “Am I Hungry?” believes the awareness of food and the eating process is a necessary component that facilitates positive behaviour change around food.
Since most people eat for reasons other than physical hunger, the first question of “Why do I eat?” is often key to ultimately changing unwanted behavior.
Below are the questions she uses to get us thinking why we are actually eating:
“Why do I eat?” Mindless eating may happen when we are bored, stressed, anxious, frustrated, angry or sad. We want to distract ourselves from the discomfort of the unwanted emotion, so we eat to mask the feelings we are feeling.
“When do I want to eat?” This could be triggered by routine and the power of habit (snacking in between meals), eating even when we aren’t hungry; conversely it could also be driven by unpleasant emotions or stress.
“What do I eat?” This boils down to what we chose to eat; Do you prepare your meals at home for the day, watching the ingredients used in preparation? Do you reach for the ready pie and cold drink from the garage on the way to your next meeting? Do you stop over at a fast food outlet for a quick bite?
“How do I eat?” Do you eat in the car on the way from one appointment to another wolfing down a convenient large muffin and coffee? Do you sit at a desk/table and eat your food slowly, savouring each bite…pausing mid-meal and reflecting on the flavours your mouth is experiencing based on what you are eating?
“How much do I eat?” This could be driven by habit and the package sizes of meals you choose to buy. For example, when shopping, do you chose the small 30g packet of crisps or the large 150g packet of crisps?
“Where does the energy go?” Do you eat food to fuel you for the day and upcoming physical activity you have planned, or do you eat for the sake of eating? This may lead you to feel lethargic and bloated as your body is not “physically” hungry. Ask yourself how the energy you consume is used throughout the day. Do you need that extra serving of potato’s for lunch if you are going to be sitting at your desk until 7pm?
Here are some top tips to avoid mindless eating:
Before eating ask a few basic questions:
- Sit down. Don’t eat on the go. You are less likely to appreciate your food when you are multitasking. It is also much harder to keep track of how much you are eating when you snack on the go.
- Am I hungry or am I thirsty? If so, what type of food/drink do I want? Remember hunger can mask itself as thirst, so if you feel peckish, first drink a glass of water and wait 15 minutes if you are still feeling that hunger craving, then it is most likely true hunger.
- Eat slowly, aim to chew each bite at least 10 times before you swallow. Pay attention to the smell, taste, sound, texture and look of the food.
- Put utensils or food down between mouthfuls.
- Serve your food on a smaller plate. Smaller plates will help you with portion control; it is an especially good strategy for those all-you-can eat-buffets.
- Turn off technology. Eating while you’re distracted can lead you to eat faster, feel less full and mindlessly eat more than your body needs.
Try these tips over the next few week in your homes!