Mindfulness is so popular nowadays, but if you haven’t delved into it you could be missing a trick to support your physical & mental health and generally make yourself a whole lot happier!
A great way to initially discover the benefits of mindfulness is through mindful eating. This can help with weight management and obesity which impacts both physical & mental health.
In his book ‘Mindless Eating’ Brian Wansink talks about how he uses ‘laddering’ to find out why people become smitten with a food, that they find hard to give up, or turn to when comfort eating. He uses a series of questions about food and links the answers in a ladder or mind map diagram. He is then able to pinpoint past associations with food that evoked positive feelings or uncover that the person is identifying the food with their own personality type for example ‘warm and nurturing’. Sometimes just realising the reason why we overeat or eat unhealthy foods is enough to make us become more mindful and make different choices next time.
Physical hunger and emotional hunger are two very different things but often it is hard to distinguish between the two if we are not eating mindfully.
Physical hunger usually builds gradually several hours after eating a meal and goes away when full, leaving a feeling of satisfaction or satiety. Emotional hunger on the other hand can develop suddenly at any time even if you have recently eaten, and is usually indicated above the neck (e.g. a ‘taste’ for ice cream) rather than below the neck as it does with physical hunger (e.g. a rumbling stomach) says Wansink. Emotional hunger persists despite fullness and leads to feelings of guilt and shame.
Becoming mindful of why we are eating and aware of when we have physically eaten enough can help us to manage weight.
Focus on your food
How many times do you eat on the go or whilst watching TV and suddenly realise you’ve finished but haven’t tasted or enjoyed your food? In his book ‘Mindfulness a Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World’ Professor Mark Williams shows us the ‘raisin meditation’ which takes 5-10 minutes to experience eating a single raisin! It may sound bizarre but here’s what it made one person realise:
“If a raisin tasted so much better when focused on it,’ he mused, ‘what about everything else that I’m eating and drinking?’ He began to feel a little sad about all of the other opportunities to taste, see, smell, hear and touch in the world that he’d missed out on by rushing through his day — but then he stopped. Here was a choice: he could carry on rushing through his life mindlessly, or he could begin to practise ‘showing up’ to his life”
Rushing your food can also compromise enzyme secretion and digestive function. Your brain and your gut communicate via ‘the gut brain axis’, and sensory input via your taste buds and smell are important to your digestive processes – eating mindfully and slowing down can help this process. Stress impacts digestion and it’s best to eat in a relaxed environment and mood, so maybe not whilst sitting in traffic or at your computer with a deadline looming.
Get nutrition savvy
Being mindful about the types of food we eat and their effect on our bodies and minds is such a huge investment in health it can’t be underestimated. Simple changes such as reducing sugar and refined carbohydrates can have a positive impact on our blood sugar balance, which affects energy, mood, weight, as well as risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even Alzheimer’s Disease which has been called ‘type 3 diabetes’.
Be mindful when planning your meals – make sure you are including a wide variety of unprocessed whole foods to give you a balanced intake of nutrients. As well as using mindfulness meditation to relieve stress you can also make sure that you are getting enough nutrients to support your brain and mental health such as omega-3 fatty acids, b vitamin and folate, minerals such as zinc and magnesium and amino acids such as tryptophan. A Registered Nutritional Therapist can help you to assess your individual nutritional needs and plan your diet accordingly.
This is a lovely recipe for a summer smoothie to sip mindfully whilst relaxing in the garden this summer. The Tryptophan contained in the banana and protein powders can help to support serotonin (the ‘happy’ neurotransmitter) synthesisis, flaxseed is a source of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, chia seed is protein and fibre rich, antioxidant rich mangos and nutrient packed fresh coconut can help to balance your blood sugar and help keep you fuller for longer. This smoothie is vegan and gluten free.
- 250ml Koko coconut milk
- ½ cup fresh coconut meat (use a tablespoon of cream from tinned coconut milk instead)
- 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
- I heaped dessert spoon of Pea Protein
- Water and ice added to desired consistency and temperature
- 1 cup fresh or frozen mango chunks
- 1 small banana
- 1 dessert spoon chia seeds
- I heaped dessert spoon of Organic Sunflower Protein
- Blend all ingredients in a high-speed blender and enjoy!
Louisa Richards is a Registered Nutritional Therapist at Heads Up Nutrition and Vegucate Nutrition. She supports her clients with weight management and health issues through nutrition education, plant based eating, mindfulness and neuro-linguistic programming.