75% of Americans acknowledge that they are wanting to eat healthier, and making efforts to have a healthier diet overall. Yet that same percentage of Americans eat a diet that is low in recommended foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. More than 2/3 of adults, and 1/3 of children qualify as obese. Despite the lucrative nature of the diet and fitness industry, diets and food restriction plans just don’t have the research or support – and actually can be harmful to your health, body image, and may cause long term increases in weight.
We’ve previously discussed mindfulness, a strategy of focused awareness and consciousness. More and more, research is supporting the use of mindfulness in eating and wellness, particularly as a replacement for diet strategies and unhealthy eating patterns. Mindfulness includes sensory integration strategies, such as using all five senses to explore food, including the look, texture, and smell aside from the taste. It can also include a focus on eliminating distractions, and reducing the amount of mindless snacking and binge eating that can happen to the TV watchers among us.
Some of the research that has examined mindfulness and eating has noticed a reduction in anxiety symptoms, increased cognitive abilities, and increased immune functions. By focusing on the present moment, and reducing the intrusive anxious thoughts that may occur around food and eating, people are noticing increased satiation and satisfaction, improved digestion, as well as increased confidence in making food related decisions.
It is important to notice the distinction between incorporating mindfulness techniques and the culture of fad diets. No meal or food is off limits, no restrictions or calorie counting is involved. Rather, mindfulness techniques are truly about improving the relationship between mind and body, and understanding yourself. It is estimated that it takes 20 minutes to feel satiation once the stomach is full. Twenty minutes is also the average amount of time an American spends at a meal – therefore you have already eaten everything before your body has decided how much it needs. Slowing down is a great way to decrease food intake without feeling any deprivation, and mindfulness techniques are built around slowing things down, and focusing on the present.
Strategies to incorporate mindfulness into your meal times are easy. Start by eliminating distractions. Implement a “no technology at the table” rule – and make a rule to eat at the table, rather than facing the television and eating off TV trays. Learn to focus on your body, and respond to it’s cues. Eat when you feel hungry, and stop when you feel full. Consider the journey your food has taken on, the process with which it has been grown, manufactured, and then prepared for you. Use the strategy mentioned above, of using all of your senses to explore the food, not just taste.
Healthy eating is identified as a priority for many of us, though we may be at a loss as to how to go about this meaningfully, in a way that brings about lasting healthy habits. This is compounded by the difficulty of managing competing distractions and emotional marketing tactics. Learning how to incorporate mindfulness strategies – which are helpful not just for eating, but for all manners of mental awareness – can help with healthy eating behaviors and improve overall well being.