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Becoming More Mindful With Food

Ever stopped to think about the food choices you’re making? (I mean really think about them and what they’re doing to your body?) Becoming more mindful with your eating could give you the health boost you’re after. 

When was the last time you sat down at the dinner table to eat without any distractions? No television, no newspaper, no computer, no iPad and no iPhone? If you’re like might most of us, you’ll find this exercise a little challenging, as too often we are either eating on the run, or gobbling down our lunch while we rush to meet the latest deadline, or eating our dinner on the couch while we watch our favourite television show. The way in which we consume food influences how much food we eat. Just ask Professor of Marketing Brian Wansink, who has completed countless studies on how our environment influences us to eat more than what we think. Whether we’re eating out with friends, eating our meals in front of the television or simply have a clear jar of lollies on our desk, all these situations result in more food being put into our mouths, and most of the time we’re not even aware of it. But, by becoming more mindful with our eating we can improve our food choices and reduce the amount of food we eat.

According to new research published in this month’s Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, eating mindfully is just as effective as adhering to nutrition-based guidelines in reducing weight and blood sugar levels in adults with type 2 diabetes. The study used two types of behavioural interventions in adults with type two diabetes. One treatment group followed an established diabetes self-management education program with a strong emphasis on nutrition information, while the other group was trained in mindful meditation and a mindful approach to food selection and eating. The people in the mindful group were encouraged to stop long enough to become aware of their physiological hunger cues.

The researchers found that eating mindfully, or consuming food in response to physical cues of hunger and fullness, was just as effective as adhering to nutrition-based guidelines in reducing weight and blood sugar levels over three months. Mindful eating generated awareness, helping the participants to stay in the moment, and live and eat in response to their hunger instead habits and unconscious eating. But how can we use this information to encourage more people to be mindful with their food choices? By changing their eating environment and including a regular yoga practice.

According to earlier research from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, regular yoga practice is associated with mindful eating and people who eat mindfully are less likely to be obese. The weight loss effect seen in this study happened independently of the physical activity of yoga practice itself and was instead attributed to increased body awareness, specifically a sensitivity to hunger and satiety, which comes with practicing yoga. Yoga cultivates mindfulness by encouraging the observation of discomfort in a non-judgmental way, with an accepting, calm mind and breathe awareness. This ability to stay calm and observant during physical discomfort teaches us to stay calm in other challenging situations, such as not eating when stressed or emotional, which is particularly important because for many of us we are too frantic to stop after every mouthful to check in with our hunger rating. What we can do however, is change  our eating environment to help improve the likelihood of eating only what we need. Sitting down at a table to eat our meals (not on a couch, walking to the bus stop or at our desk) and turning off all electrical devices gives us time to connect with food and allows ourselves to become more mindful of the quantity of food we consume. The biggest challenge however is consistency – that is including a daily yoga practice and giving yourself permission to sit down to eat and to only eat.

Have you changed your eating environment or started practicing yoga as a way to become more mindful with your eating?

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