by Tia

Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality health coverage, explores how mindful eating can transform your life and how you can start practising it today.

The Balanced Homebody emphasises that eating is an essential form of self-care, and with a mindful approach, we can better nourish our bodies, stop obsessing over calories, and build a healthier relationship with food,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.

“However, juggling busy work schedules, family responsibilities, and daily life often makes eating a rushed activity, leading to poor food choices and overeating.”

What Is Mindful Eating?

Mindful eating has its roots in ancient Buddhist teachings, particularly in mindfulness meditation, which emphasises being fully present in the moment. The modern concept of mindful eating emerged in the West in the late 20th century, primarily influenced by the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer in integrating mindfulness into mainstream medicine. In the 1970s, Kabat-Zinn created the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme, which used mindfulness meditation concepts to manage stress, pain and illness.

Today, mindful eating is widely recognised as a valuable approach to improving dietary habits, enhancing well-being, and fostering a positive relationship with food. It involves paying attention to your food’s colours, smells, textures, flavours and sounds. It’s about recognising hunger and fullness cues and making conscious choices about what and how much to eat.

Benefits of Mindful Eating

The benefits of mindful eating, according to Harvard University, include:

  • Improved Digestion: When you eat mindfully, you chew your food thoroughly. This aids digestion and helps prevent bloating and indigestion.
  • Weight Management: Mindful eating helps you recognise when you’re hungry and full, which can prevent unnecessary snacking and help maintain a healthy weight.
  • Reduced Stress and Emotional Eating: Mindful eating helps you deal with your emotions without turning to food for comfort.
  • Better Nutritional Choices: When you practise mindful eating, you become more aware of how different foods make you feel. This awareness helps you choose nutritious options that energise you over foods that make you feel sluggish, such as foods high in sugar, refined carbs, and unhealthy fats.

6 Tips for Mindful Eating

  1. Plan Your Shopping List: Start with a well-thought-out shopping list, considering the health value of each item. Focus on filling most of your trolley or basket with fresh produce, and steer clear of the aisles filled with processed and frozen foods.
  2. Start with Small Portions: Begin your meal with a small portion. Using side plates can help control portion sizes.
  3. Appreciate Your Food: Before eating, take a minute to think about where your food came from and the effort it took to get it to your table. Appreciate the meal and enjoy the company you’re sharing it with.
  4. Engage All Your Senses: Pay attention to the colours, textures, aromas, and sounds of your food as you cook, serve, and eat. When you chew, identify all the ingredients, including the spices and seasonings used.
  5. Take Small Bites: Take smaller bites and place your utensils down between each one.
  6. Chew Thoroughly: Chew your food thoroughly to experience its flavours fully.

Letting Go of Calorie Counting

While calorie counting is effective for weight management, it has several drawbacks that can make it ineffective and unsustainable for many people. The pitfalls of calorie counting include:

  • Obsession and Stress: Constantly tracking every calorie can lead to an unhealthy obsession with food and numbers. This focus can increase stress and anxiety around eating, making meals more about calculations than nourishment.
  • Ignoring Nutritional Value: Calorie counting emphasises quantity over quality. It often overlooks the nutritional value of foods, leading people to choose low-calorie but nutrient-poor options over more nutritious foods that might have higher calorie counts.
  • Inaccuracy: Estimating calories can be highly inaccurate. Food labels can be misleading, and portion sizes are often hard to gauge. This inaccuracy can result in frustration and a false sense of progress or failure.
  • Lack of Satisfaction: Focusing solely on calories can lead to unsatisfying meals that don’t address hunger or cravings. This can result in overeating later as your body seeks the nutrients and satisfaction it needs.

Mindful eating offers a more balanced approach because it emphasises:

Quality, Not Quantity: Instead of obsessing over calorie numbers, mindful eating helps you focus on the nutritional quality of your food.

Trusting Your Body: Your body has natural hunger and fullness signals. Mindful eating helps you tune into these signals and trust that your body will guide you to eat the right amount.

Enjoying Your Food: Mindful eating allows you to enjoy your meals without guilt and recognise that occasional indulgence is a normal part of a balanced diet.

Building a Positive Relationship with Food: Mindful eating focuses on viewing food as a source of nourishment and pleasure, not as a set of numbers to be calculated. This positive relationship can reduce stress and improve overall well-being.

Tips for Getting Started with Mindful Eating

Start Small: Begin with one mindful meal a day. As you become more comfortable, gradually incorporate mindful eating into more meals.

Be Patient: Developing a mindful eating practice takes time. Be patient with yourself and recognise that it’s okay to have setbacks.

Keep a Journal: Reflect on your mindful eating experiences in a journal. Note how you felt before, during, and after eating. This can help you identify patterns and deepen your practice.

Conclusion Mindful eating is a powerful practice that can transform your relationship with food and your body. By paying attention to your eating experiences, listening to your body’s signals, and letting go of calorie counting, you can enjoy food more thoroughly and nourish your body in a balanced, healthy way.

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