Thursday, July 3, 2014

The art of mindful eating

Eating is an activity that plays a central role in our lives. We eat food for getting energy and the building blocks of various body chemicals. Mindful or conscious eating involves setting an intention before we eat, becoming aware of the process of choosing what to eat and eating consciously with a full attention. Mindful eating is a set of skills that anyone can learn.  Mindful eating fosters concentration and helps break emotional eating habits. Mindful eating helps to reduce cravings, controls portion sizes, enhances the eating experience, and improves digestion and overall health. Mindful eating creates an increased awareness of one’s physical hunger and satiety cues to guide the decision of when to begin or stop eating. Mindful eating promotes balance, choice, wisdom and acceptance around meals, body and eating. “The quality of one’s life depends on the quality of attention” writes Deepak Chopra in Ageless Body, Timeless Mind.

Meaning of mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention (or attention training or attention regulation). Mindfulness is practiced by paying attention on purpose non-judgementally and with a welcoming and allowing attitude. It means turning toward present- moment experience based on three human qualities: patience (Invitation to wait for a mindful response), openness (opening one’s senses to the flow of experience) and compassion (feelings of empathy).Mindfulness is not always easy to achieve or to sustain. Practicing mindfulness requires effort and patience. Mindfulness is an opportunity for anyone to discover the inner space, stillness and simplicity that are our natural heritage as human beings.

Steps in eating with awareness

1. Start small- choose one meal each day and try to focus on mindful eating of the meal.
2. Do nothing else while eating –avoid any distractions and pay attention to the meal.
3. Observe the food – notice its shape, colour and texture and appreciate its appearance.
4. Honour the food – express gratitude to be worthy to receive the food.
5. Focus on each mouthful – think about the flavour, texture and even sound of food in your mouth.
6. Chew the food – chew your food slowly and thoroughly.
7. Taste the food – notice the sensations of sweet, salty, sour or bitter.
8. Swallow your food – sense your body being nourished by the food.
9. Engage all six senses during eating – feel its aroma, shape, colour, texture and taste.

Benefits of mindful eating

1. Reduces overeating
2. Increases enjoyment of food
3. Improves digestion.
4. Being satisfied with small portions.

Types of foods

Calorie – dense foods – these foods are rich in calories and deprived of valuable nutrients. It is best to minimize your daily consumption. Examples include fried foods (French fries, potato chips), foods high in fats (red meats, cheeses) and foods high in refined sugars ( candy, white breads, refined pastas).
Nutrient – dense foods – these foods are packed with essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and necessary fibre. Nutrient density refers to the amount of essential nutrients for the given volume of food.Nutrient density is a simple way to connect nutrients with calories. Nutrient dense foods provide more nutrients for the fewest amounts of calories. Fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains are excellent examples of nutrient - dense foods. 
Empty – calorie foods – empty calories are the calories from solid fats and added sugars in foods and beverages. These foods add to total calories but provide no vitamins and minerals e.g., soft drinks, candies, cookies, fatty meats and stick margarine. Reduce the intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars.
Fiber – rich foods – dietary fiber is a vital component of a healthy diet. Fibre is a diverse group of compounds including lignin and complex carbohydrates that cannot  be digested by human enzymes in the small intestine. Fibre tends to absorb toxins that build up in the large intestine and carries them out of the body. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) recommends an intake of 20 to 30 grams fibre/ day for adults from a variety of food  sources. All plant – based foods contain mixtures of soluble and insoluble fibre. Legumes, whole grains and nuts are generally more concentrated sources of fibre than fruits and vegetables. High – fibre intakes promote bowel health by preventing constipation and diverticular disease.

The 2000 dietary guidelines  with “A-B-C” or

 “aim-build-choose sensibly” steps:

Step A : 1. Aim for a healthy weight; 2. Be physically active each day.
Step B : “Build a healthy base” with the following:
1.       Let the food pyramid guide your food choices.
2.       Choose a variety of grains daily especially whole grains.
3.       Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables daily.
4.       Keep food safe to eat.
Step C : “Choose sensibly” through the following:
1.       Choose a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol and moderate in total fat.
2.       Choose beverages and foods that limit your intake of sugars.
3.       Choose and  prepare foods with less salt.
4.       If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.

Healthy – eating guidelines in “The Balance of Good Health” by
The Health Education Authority, UK (1997)
1.Enjoy you food;
2. Eat a variety of different food;
3. Eat the right amount to be a healthy weight;
4. Eat plenty of foods rich in starch and fibre;
5. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables;
6. Don’t eat too many foods that contain a lot of fat;
7. Don’t have sugary foods and drinks too often; and
8. If drink alcohol, drink sensibly.

Quote for personal reflection

Mindful eating...

"Mindful eating is not a diet. There are no menus or recipes.
 It is being more aware of your eating habits,
 the sensations you experience when you eat and
 the thoughts and emotions that you have about food.
 It is more about how you eat than
 what you eat."      - Susan Albers.

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