Mindful Eating for the Gut & Brain

13 February 2019

Latest research suggests that changing our thoughts and practices around meals and mealtimes are just as important as obsessing over what it is we actually put in our mouths. Mindful eating aims to reconnect us more deeply with the experience of eating — and enjoying — our food. The goal of mindful eating then, is to base our meals on physical cues, such as our bodies’ hunger signals, not emotional ones — like eating for comfort.

The mind–gut connection

Digestion involves a complex series of hormonal signals between the gut and the nervous system, and it seems to take about 20 minutes for the brain to register satiety (fullness). If someone eats too quickly, satiety may occur after overeating instead of putting a stop to it. There's also reason to believe that eating while we're distracted by activities like driving or typing may slow down or stop digestion similar to how the "fight or flight" response does. And if we're not digesting well, we may be missing out on the full nutritive value of some of the food we're consuming.

Finding ways to slow down and eat intentionally are all a part of developing a truly healthy food culture and triggering metabolism. One study tracked more than 1,400 mindful eaters and showed them to have lower body weights, a greater sense of well-being, and fewer symptoms of IBS.

In short, mindful eating increases awareness, pleasure, digestion, absorption and metabolism, so what is not to like!

Here are my top tips :

When we eat unconsciously we eat more.

So, avoid multitasking while eating and simply eat - nothing more! Turn off the phone, TV, email, computer and take a break from media while you focus on nourishing yourself.

By eating consciously and slowly, you allow yourself to honour your true hunger and satiety needs by providing ample time for your brain to get the signal that your stomach is full!

Offer gratitude before each meal and bring your attention fully to the food:

“Take Five” before a meal. In one minute transform your metabolism by taking five slow breaths. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 5, pause, out through your mouth for a count of 5. Repeat 4 more times or until you feel relaxed and ready to begin your meal. You can put one hand on your belly to help you connect with deeper belly-breathing. Mindful eating does not have to be an exercise in super-human concentration, but rather a simple commitment to appreciating, respecting and, above all, enjoying the food you eat every day.

Eat in a setting where you feel relaxed.

If you are eating in the car, in front of a computer doing work, walking along the street rushing to your next meeting or on the phone, you are not able to give full attention to eating, and, as a result  is sending a message to the brain that you are in a stressed state. Eating, when we are in a “stressed”, flips the nervous system into it’s parasympathetic side (vs sympathetic) and the digestive system is put into a form of a holding pattern. As a result, physically digesting and absorbing your food is not a priority. Take time to find 25 mins at least, away from your desk - a park bench, a cafe, a seat in the work canteen for example and focus on the act on nourishing your body and your mind :)

Eat with others.

Eating is a communal event, a social occasion. The act of sitting down at a table with your family and or friends both brings cohesion and is good for the body and soul.

Chew thoroughly

The process of digestion begins in the mouth where enzymes are secreted in saliva to break down food. If we do not properly chew and make our food morsels smaller, we may be subject to indigestion and other digestive problems. The act of eating allows us to be mindful, and in-the-moment, of our exchange of energy with foods.