So where to begin? Simply by tuning into your body’s communication system.
Mindful eating redirects our brain to focus on the moment that food is in front of us, our environment and the people we are sharing the experience with. We then instinctively will select nourishing foods to keep us healthy while appreciating the aromas, and tastes and enjoying our relationship with food.
We have become so ingrained into eating mindlessly- especially during the pandemic.
We are always switched on – we eat while watching TV, while on Zoom consultations when scrolling through social media platforms. So much so, that we have forgotten what was consumed when we had eaten, let alone, what our last meal tasted like.
We should tune in to our senses so that we can savour our food.
Mindful eating is not about dieting or restricted eating, it is not about eating to seek comfort when stressed or emotionally overwrought. Mindful eating is all about transitioning from the typical “one size fits all” diet that we have been subjected to through the lens of advertising and the agenda of social media.
While weight loss is not the initial intention when engaging in mindful eating, a literature review concluded that the approach of mindful eating was effective in not only adopting healthy eating habits but also inducing weight loss amongst participants.
Therefore, it is rather an eating habit that is sustainable, reduces serving portions and helps maintain nutritional harmony.
Now for the science behind this. By embracing the awareness around food, we are communicating with our enteric nervous system (ENS) also known as the Peacemaker of the Gut. A healthy mind equals healthy digestion and, the truth is, we are what we absorb and digest.
Chronic stress has multi-layered consequences on our minds and gut. This anxiousness affects our digestion because of the direct communication between the gut/brain axis which connects the central nervous system (CNS) to the ENS, also known as our gut/brain or second brain.
The ENS is responsible for digestion. The ENS is activated during parasympathetic nervous system activation so that the body can rest and digest. However, this constant flight or fight mode, that many of us are on, predominates and the ENS is inhibited.
What results are an impacted digestive process and gut disorders? ENS alterations can disturb gut function leading to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and its accompanying inflammatory disorders.
Also, central to this scenario is the role of our gut microbiota – a vital component of mental health.
By having a diet rich in plant-based soluble fibre, we increase the diversity of our gut inhabitants. Research has shown that a diverse gut microbiome helps burn more calories and increase metabolism.
The more diverse your plant diet is, the more diverse the bacteria in the gut, which in turn produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) which are Butyrate, Propionate and Acetate. SCFAs function as fuel to produce more diverse bacteria and also act as signalling agents that bind to specific receptors that affect metabolism. These receptors play a role in controlling appetite. If you do not have a diverse gut microbiome you are always hungry. SCFAs allow your metabolic system to be more efficient in fat burning efficiency as it affects those pathways as well as reduces markers of inflammation.
Gut bacteria are also involved in the synthesis of the amino acid, serotonin. According to science as much as 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut. So, it is important to note that a stable and complex microbiome is affiliated with a healthier status.
If you are struggling with stress, anxiety and finding it difficult to make healthier food choices which are all having negative outcomes on your health and wellbeing goals, now is the time to take control by adopting a few strategies such as:
1. Soundful sleep – at least 7-9 hours per night. To increase melatonin production, it is important to expose your eyes to the morning sun.
2. Exercise for that endorphin release – yoga, an exercise class or even just walking in nature is enough on some days.
3. Mindfulness is not a trend- be engaged and focused on what you do – listen to your body and eat with intention. It is absolutely fine to do one thing at a time- multi-tasking is just a myth.
4. If your relationship with food requires help, please seek advice from a health practitioner to tailor specific nutrients to ensure your health is at its optimum.
5. Foster a good relationship with your gut microbiome – choose plant-based fibres and add colour and variety to your plate.
6. Look at the source of your food, choose foods that are grown in rich, nutrient-dense soil and proteins that are sustainably sourced.
Mindful eating is the liberation nutrition advice you have been seeking. We are no longer prisoners to fad diets and media culture, by listening to ourselves and ultimately our gut, we are aligning to our true selves, and in that vision, becoming healthier and happier