Everything is done fast in this era of technology and globalisation, including eating, one of our most basic needs. For example, due to a busy schedule, many of us opt to eat fast food while working on our laptops, and some of us munch on our breakfast bar while driving to work. These are examples of mindless eating, which can lead to overeating, thus resulting in health problems like obesity. A way to reverse this behaviour is by slowing down and practising mindful eating, as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Discussion about healthy eating and weight-loss usually focuses on what you eat and how much you eat. Mindful eating, on the other hand, is about how you eat. It is about being conscious of your eating habits and involves paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking. The aim is to be able to distinguish between emotional and physical hunger. Mindful eating can also teach parents and kids to appreciate and enjoy their meals more. There are many ways to incorporate mindfulness in the daily eating habits of you and your family.
Eating in front of the TV or while playing with gadgets has become the norm, but studies have shown that this practice can lead to weight gain. “Looking at screens or doing other things while eating can distract you from the food and this can easily lead to overeating, as you keep stuffing food into your mouth without noticing the cue from your body to stop eating,” stressed Dr Tan Sue Yee. So, it is best to have meals at the dinner table with your family and make it a no-gadget zone.
Take time to sit down and enjoy your food, instead of eating on the go. Eating quickly is found to lead to weight gain, heart disease, indigestion, and acid reflux. “Eating slower and taking small bites will allow food to be digested better. You will also be able to fully taste the flavour, as food stays in your mouth longer,” said Dr Tan. Eating at a slower pace will also more likely help you to notice when you are full.
Savour the flavour
Pay attention to the look, aroma, taste, texture, and even the sound of the food you are eating. Ask your kids to try identifying the different ingredients and flavours in the food. “This will help you to appreciate the food and be more mindful of the entire eating experience,” said Dr Tan. It will also allow you to notice if the food is too salty or too sweet, signs that it contains too much salt or sugar, which are not too good for your health.
Know your food
Appreciate where the food comes from, who produces it, and how it is prepared. Being conscious and mindful of your eating habits will lead you to be more discerning of what you eat. “One way to do this is by reading the label and knowing the nutritional value of the food. Cooking and making your own food will also help you to appreciate it more,” suggested Dr Tan. Knowing your food will help you make a more healthy and sustainable choice for yourself and your family.
Keeping a proper mealtime can help to promote healthy eating habits in your family. A regular time for breakfast, lunch and dinner is important, as skipping meals can lead to overeating during the next meal. “People with a regular meal routine tend to have healthier eating habits, as they are more conscious of when they should eat,” said Dr Tan. Reduce snacking as it can lead to mindless eating; however, healthy and mindful snacking can be useful to control portions of main meals.
Knowing when to eat
Identify the hunger signals from your body and stop eating when you are already full. “Whenever you feel like eating, ask yourself if it is due to hunger, boredom, or stress. If you are not really hungry, find other non-food related things to do,” suggested Dr Tan. Avoid eating in response to certain emotions (emotional eating) or food-related cues like the smell or sight of food (external eating). Hunger can also be mistaken for thirst, so try drinking a glass of water if you feel hungry when it is not your regular mealtime.
Do you know?
Irregular mealtimes can lead to a disruption of the circadian system, which is the internal body clock that keeps us in sync with a 24-hour day. This can increase the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
Mindful eating is one approach towards a healthy eating habit, which focuses on the way you eat and regard food. In fact, mindful eating can be a way to lose weight without going through complicated weight loss diets or programmes. Mindful eating may help with weight loss by re-establishing your relationship with food, thus reducing food-related stress and changing your negative eating behaviours, such as binge eating, emotional eating, external eating, and food cravings.
In this age of abundance and fast-paced society, practicing mindful eating might seem challenging to you and your family. “However, you can approach it simply as a commitment to respect, appreciate, and especially, enjoy your meals more fully,” advised Dr Tan. By gradually incorporating these tips to your daily life, you will find yourself more mindful and aware of how you eat, as well as what you eat.
An educational collaboration with Nutrition Society of Malaysia.