You know when you say a word over and over so many times it loses its meaning accidentally? ‘Mindful’ has got to be one of those words. In the grand context of the wellness industry (‘wellness’ is undoubtedly also one of those words), the term mindful has been used to describe everything from exercise to meditation to self-care, and everything in between. Anything can be mindful these days and hence, we’ve lost touch with what it actually means. We’ve all heard of the concept but do we really understand it? Today’s post will focus on the revelation of mindful eating and what it can do for our health and wellbeing.
What is mindful eating?
There are many different ways in which we can be mindful around food. The obvious one that springs to mind (no pun intended!) is the physical act of eating, chewing and swallowing our meals. However, it’s also important to recognise the need to be mindful about where our food comes from and the consumerist nature with which we shop, demand produce to be available and in season all year round, and ultimately engage with the dialogue of “where did this come from?” and “at what cost?”
Physical health benefits aside, it’s important to consider the health benefits to our planet of being mindful eaters and consumers. One thing that we’re extremely passionate about here at Cru8 is buying organic produce where possible, because not only does it make so much sense from a nutrition perspective, but organic farming methods are much less damaging to soil health and support the natural ecosystems of our planet. Before we even sit down to eat we can be mindful in our choice of where to shop, perhaps selecting local and sustainable growers, and be thankful and aware of the provenance of the food we’re so lucky to put on our plates.
Mindful eating and digestion
We know the phrase “digestion begins in the mouth,” but actually it begins before that with signaling from the brain via the sensory organs that help communicate the imminent arrival of food - this is called the cephalic phase. Smell, sight, taste and touch are all equally as important as what actually happens once our food reaches our stomach. The reason for this has to do with digestive dominoes...bear with us while we explain...
If we imagine that the complete and adequate digestion of food is like a game of dominoes, and that the start of the domino run is the cephalic stage (i.e. sight, touch, smell), then it’s easy to see that without this phase being carried out properly we simply can’t topple over the first domino and consequently none of the others, (that are concerned with the breakdown and digestion of food in the intestines) will happen.
When we see, smell, touch and taste food we are signaling to our body that it’s time to get the saliva and bile flow happening. Without adequate saliva and bile we cannot even begin to digest our food properly. When this happens it’s much more likely that foods will cause a negative reaction as undigested molecules of protein come into contact with the immune cells in our gut because they haven’t been properly broken down.
The same goes for chewing. The only place we have teeth in our bodies is our mouth, so it’s madness that we all rush food, eat on the go and simply don’t chew enough! Part of eating mindfully is taking the time to chew your food so that it’s completely unrecognisable before you swallow it. Again, this helps the proper digestion of food and the breakdown of long protein, carbohydrate and fat molecules into smaller molecules which the body can deal with effectively and efficiently. The knock on effect of mindfully chewing your food before swallowing it is less bloating and indigestion, more energy and less allergic-type reactions to food.
One study found that even discussing food for 30 minutes without tasting it, seeing it or smelling it increased acid secretion from 4 to 13 mmol/h1, so part of your mindfulness practice around food could be discussing with your partner or family what you plan to cook before you even start chopping.
Slow it down
Slowing down the whole ritual around food will also improve our satiety levels. Studies have shown that slower eating speeds lead to feeling fuller and therefore stopping before overeating occurs2 , a trend that is rife in our society of ‘lunch on the go’ or worse, at your desk whilst answering emails.
Understanding the importance of the cephalic phase of digestion, it seems criminal that almost a third3 of us eat lunch at our desk, when really we should be taking the time to eat our food slowly, mindfully, really tasting it, smelling it and enjoying it whilst chewing it thoroughly to aid digestion and limit overeating and binge eating.
Mindful eating and dieting
Given that eating mindfully is a great way to really tune into what our bodies need in terms of food, our hunger signals and our levels of ‘fullness’, it follows that mindful eating practices could quickly become more effective than restrictive diets. Food, of course, is fuel, but it’s also enjoyment, love and nourishment, and if we can start to see it as such and truly be mindful in the way we consume our meals, we’ll quickly start to see real changes in our mental health, our physiology and our mindset.