Once upon a time, food was considered a celebration of life. But today, because of beauty trends and increased scrutiny over bodyweight, people have started looking at food as the enemy. Every morsel of food is judged for its calories, nutritional value, etc. In addition to this, due to misinformation about eating habits, people forget to do the basic thing. I am referring to eating mindfully, appreciating every food intake for its taste so that digestion can occur smoothly.
Due to food trends with a new superfood coming in the market every day and diet trends (Mediterranean diet, Keto diet, Atkins diet, Intermittent fasting, etc.), individuals get confused about what elements to incorporate into their daily diet. But the most cost-effective habit one can inculcate is eating mindfully. Although the habit is inexpensive, it only comes with practice.
So what does eating mindfully mean exactly?
It means focusing on the food we consume rather than getting distracted by life. It means taking meal time seriously and appreciating the food so that digestion can occur smoothly.
Research shows that when individuals are sad or angry and consume food, the body does not produce important microbes like lactobacillus and bifidum bacterium. This leads to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system to not be in sync, which then affects the digestive system. Eating mindlessly could also mean eating in a rush, eating impulsively as well eating under stress.
To highlight mindful eating, I want to elaborate on two experiments we teach students in nutrition.
- A group of students were asked to observe how people eat in the cafeteria and the restaurants. They had to note whether people chew and relish the food, or do they bite and gulp it mindlessly. The group’s readings showed that an adult person, on average, chews only six to seven times, instead of the 30 times as advised by nutritionists. It is because we find chewing time-consuming and tend to multitask while eating, trying to make the most out of the 20-30 minutes break time, rather than concentrating on our food.
- There was another experiment that was done on chewing habits. A group of people was given two kinds of food meals, one comprised of junk food and the other comprised of a home-cooked meal. Each individual was asked to eat mindfully by taking a few deep breaths, observing the food, and most importantly, by chewing each bite 30 times. With every bite, they were asked to observe the texture of the food, the aroma of the food, and the sound of the food. The results showcased that the group was able to feel the sweetness of the junk food within three to four bites, and with the home-cooked food, they felt the sweetness after 20-25 bites.
Why was this? Our mouth secretes an enzyme called salivary amylase, which helps in the digestion of carbohydrates. If we fail to chew the food properly, these enzymes won’t be able to break the carbs. However, with junk food, restaurants add chemicals to it, this creates a sweet taste in our mouth moments after we eat junk food, without the actions of salivary amylase. And so in contrast, when we eat home-cooked meals free of such chemicals in a rush, we end up missing out on the sweetness.
How can one practice mindfulness while eating?
1. Chew your food properly.
- I cannot stress the benefits of chewing food properly, which is crucial for the digestive process to begin in the mouth via the help of salivary amylase. Many times individuals who fail to chew properly suffer from flatulence, bloating, and in severe cases, SIBO (Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). All of this can be avoided by the simple act of chewing food for 30 times.
- There’s a hormone called ghrelin that our stomachs secrete 20 minutes after we start eating the food. This hormone gives us the indicator of when our hunger is satiated. For this hormone to work effectively, chewing is important as it allows the stomach buffer time to secrete this hormone. And if ghrelin is secreted properly, we will avoid overeating and eat only the requirements of our body, thereby not feeling bloated.
2. Focus on eating
You should not eat food when you are sad or angry or stressed. I would suggest taking five deep breaths before you start your meal. And make sure you stay away from distractions and eat your meal in peace. This would then lead to smooth digestion and easier absorption of the assimilated nutrients.
3. Listen to your gut
We must feed ourselves when we are feeling balanced and only eat as much as required. Balance is the key to ensuring that our meals provide us with optimum levels of energy. This can be done by the simple act listening to our body’s needs. This would then result in synchronization of the autonomic and parasympathetic nervous system.
In conclusion, practicing mindful eating has long-term benefits. And for that, all you have to do is give some time to food, reconnect with eating, and eat with joy rather than guilt.