The benefits of mindful eating and the benefits of mindfulness, in general, are clear to anyone who tries it. Mindfulness is a practice that has received a lot of praise over the last couple of years. One of the earliest (and only) upsides of the pandemic was that it gave people the time to be more mindful and devote themselves to practices of self-care such as meditation, healthy eating and exercise.
A lot of attention is paid to mindfulness meditation. That’s the practice of still awareness, pausing to observe your mind, sitting with your emotions and experiencing your feelings as you meditate. Many choose to begin and end their day with mindfulness meditation, and some even take ‘mindfulness breaks’ throughout their workday, lasting anywhere from 1 or 2 minutes to half an hour.
However, you have several other opportunities throughout the day to practice mindfulness in a less formal way. Mindful eating is a wonderful accompaniment to traditional mindfulness. When you eat mindfully, what you are doing is devoting the same attention and effort to a meditation practice while you clean your plate.
Mindful eating can be especially helpful if you are trying to track food intolerances, lose weight, eat well or develop a healthier relationship with food. However, there are many other benefits as well.
Below, we’ll explore 10 benefits of mindful eating.
1. Benefits of Mindful Eating When You Want to Stop Overeating
Ironically, working from home has made us busier than ever. For many of us, the line between work life and home life hasn’t just been blurred, it’s nearly been erased. Also, the freedom some of us have to make our own schedules now has led to an increase in side hustles, passion projects and online classes. We can take our work with us anywhere we go, and almost all of us do, even to the table. Working, answering messages and catching up on social media while we eat has become the norm and the resulting mindless eating has essentially turned off the signal in our brains that tell us when we’re full. It takes our brains around 20 minutes to tell our bodies that we’re full, but if we’re not paying attention to the signals and only stop eating when we run out of food, it’s very easy to eat more than we need. If we’re aware and present while we eat, the message of fullness is impossible to ignore.
2. Put an End to Hedonic Eating
When we eat, our bodies produce and release dopamine, the feel-good hormone that’s also associated with sex, drugs, shopping…pretty much anything that brings us joy and satisfaction. Many people who struggle with overeating do so purely to get a hit of dopamine, and they may not even realize it. Eating for pleasure, and not to satiate true hunger, is called hedonic eating, and over time it can actually alter your brain chemistry. Mindful eating can help you gain awareness of this habit, and awareness is the first step towards change.
3. Increase Your Feelings of Gratitude
When we stop and take a minute to consider where our food comes from, we can foster a deep sense of gratitude for what’s in front of us. Think about the farmer that grew your vegetables from seeds, picked them and packed the crates onto a truck. Consider the truck driver who delivered food to your grocery store, the employees who unpacked and sold it, and the person who made it (yes, even if it was you!). If you eat meat, take a moment to express gratitude for the animal who gave its life for your nourishment.
4. Mindful Eating Helps You Identify the Emotions You Have Around Food
Sometimes, people who struggle with their weight also struggle emotionally around mealtime. This is a very dangerous, unhealthy state of mind that can be hard to change. Eating mindfully helps you confront those thoughts and feelings head-on, and from there you can work to change the way emotions impact your eating behaviour. Next time you reach for something to eat, ask yourself what you’re feeling, and whether you’re using food to fill a void in your heart, head or stomach.
5. Become More Cognizant of Physical Reactions to Certain Foods
Have you ever walked away from a meal with a stomach ache, wondering what you ate that triggered it? When we’re eating quickly, or when we’re too distracted, we don’t notice the subtle cues our bodies give us when it’s not reacting well to something. Mindfulness helps you become aware of your food sensitivities.
6. Mindful Eating is a Great Start into the World of Mindfulness
Mindfulness meditation is no easy feat. Sitting quietly and trying to block out both external and internal distractions takes lots of practice, sometimes months or even years. Mindful eating, however, can be an easier, more accessible gateway into the world of mindfulness. Once you know how to eat mindfully and start appreciating its benefits, mindfulness meditation suddenly seems like a much more attainable goal.
7. Helps You Recognize True Hunger
Are you hungry for food, or intimacy? And are you sure you’re hungry at all, or are you actually just thirsty? Some of the signs of dehydration, like headache, trouble concentrating and irritability, can be confused for hunger. Eating mindfully can help you recognize true hunger in two ways: first, it helps you be more aware of the last time you ate, which can help you differentiate between true hunger and something else, like thirst or boredom, and it can help you determine how hungry you actually are; is it time to stop for a meal, or do you need just need a healthy snack to tide you over?
8. Mindful Eating Helps You Make Healthier Decisions
Mindful eating doesn’t start when you sit down to a meal. Mindful eating means bringing mindfulness to all aspects of mealtime, including planning your weekly menu, grocery shopping and preparing your food. Next time you reach for something, ask yourself if the food you’re seeking will nourish your body. By being consciously involved in your food choices, instead of just grabbing what’s easy or nearby, it becomes much easier to choose foods that will leave you feeling full and satisfied.
9. Improved Digestion
Eating while distracted can make us eat too quickly. When we eat mindfully, we use all of our senses: your eyes explore the surface of the food while your tongue experiences its texture, you can hear the sound it makes while you chew, and you can taste and smell the spices that were used to prepare it. Eating mindfully automatically makes us slow down while we eat and chew thoroughly, which will benefit digestion.
10. Physical Benefits Such as Weight Loss
In addition to the cognitive and emotional benefits of mindful eating, there are a number of physical benefits that come with a more intentional approach to eating. A study was done in 2016 to test whether adopting a mindful practice in addition to a diet and exercise program could contribute towards weight loss. While the test subjects did not experience any significant weight loss, the researchers did notice several other health improvements including lowered cholesterol, lower blood pressure, lower cortisol levels (which can contribute greatly to belly fat) and helped control blood sugar between meals.
With the new year just around the corner, now is a great time to begin a new practice of mindful eating that you can bring with you into a healthier 2022. To get an even better relationship with food during mealtime, consider reviewing your diet and nutrition reports from CircleDNA. A CircleDNA test can give you some insight as to how your body may react to certain foods, whether or not you have a genetically low ability for appetite control, and a nutrition report based on your DNA guiding you on what to eat.