New to mindfulness??
Start with our article What is Mindfulness and learn more about it and how it will help you making your life better.
Now that you are a little familiarised with the concept of mindfulness and how it plays an important role to help you live a more conscious and flourishing life, let’s discuss how you can use the principles of mindfulness to eat better and healthier, especially in the context of your ‘in-between-the-meals’ sugar or salt cravings.
Mindfulness is a way of training your mind, body, and emotions to remain in a state of wakefulness so that every moment of your life you are aware of what’s happening around you and on the inside of you. It involves a variety of methods that you can employ to maintain a sense of consciousness regarding the nature of your own thoughts, emotions, and actions on a moment-to-moment basis.
Just like every other aspect of our lives, we tend to eat mindlessly all the time. What does eating mindlessly means? It could mean various things depending on who you are and how you conduct your life. Please identify which of these (one or more things) happen with you before, while or after eating -
If you could relate to any of these (one or more), you tend to eat mindlessly. On average, most people make approx 200 decisions related to food on a daily basis. A small fraction of these are made consciously and the rest are performed automatically by your unconscious mind. These compulsive, unconscious decisions make you eat mindlessly. When you eat unconsciously you tend to overeat, you gain weight and you attract a variety of diseases.
A 2014 Nielsen report reveals that the 3 most favorite snacks of North Americans are - chocolates, chips, and cheese. Eating such foods (which are extremely high in sugar or salt content) and that too without any awareness is the reason why the country is under such an epidemic of obesity. If you search online to find out what can be done in this regard, you’ll find that most people (even top dieticians and doctors) have recommended replacing unhealthy snacks with healthier options. And that’s it! They don’t deal with the actual root cause of the issue which is your compulsive nature and the unconscious tendencies of your mind.
Instead of working on this aspect of your being, if you try to get rid of your snacking habits, you’ll find that it just won’t work and even if you’ll be able to cut back, it’ll be for a temporary period of time. The cravings will reach their saturation point and you’ll end up eating more junk than ever before.
By developing your consciousness via mindfulness, changing your food habits would become so much easier. When you practice mindfulness, not only your mind but also, your body, emotions and your very life energies start evolving to a higher state of wakefulness. When you are aware of what exactly is going inside your body, how it tastes on your tongue, how it makes you feel and how good or bad it is for your system, you won’t need doctors, dieticians or scientists to tell you what snacks you can eat or can’t eat. Your own consciousness will answer all these questions and that’s how it should be.
You can practice the following techniques in order to develop a more mindful approach towards snacking. It’s not necessary to follow these tips in any given order or exactly like they’ve been described. You can experiment with these and find solutions that work best for you, for your lifestyle, body type, and nutritional needs.
In one of our other articles, we’ve discussed 7 types of hunger - stomach, mouth, eye, nose, cellular, mind and heart. Before you make up your mind that you need a snack, ask yourself - “Am I really hungry? What kind of hunger is this?” Make sure you are eating for the right reasons and not because you are bored or anxious.
What could be the right reasons for snacking? - to be honest very few! It has been scientifically proven today that our brains work best when our stomachs are empty. When your stomach is full, a big portion of your energy gets involved in the digestion process and thus, the lethargy. So, our mind starts insisting that for some reason even after eating food the body needs some extra energy (cravings for a sweet or salty snack). You need to understand that it’s not because you’ve eaten wrong or less that your body craves extra energy, but on the contrary, you’ve eaten a little too much, mindlessly and the body is finding it difficult to digest the food, which is why you crave a snack now. So, next time you crave a snack, take a deep breath, bring your awareness to the present moment and ask yourself - “What’s the real reason that I’m craving this snack?”
Not just snacks but any food that you put in your mouth needs to be enjoyed properly! That’s the real connection between mindfulness and eating. Whenever you eat something, eat mindfully. Bring your awareness back to the present moment by focusing all your 5 senses (and not just your sense of taste) on the food in front of you. Take time, eat slowly. Smell its different ingredients, devour its flavors with your eyes and hear the crunch when you take your first bite, feel its warmth or cool texture with your hands and enjoy every bite you eat.
Usually, our food is boring, but our snacks are delicious. So, it becomes even more important to relish your snacks properly. When you form a habit to eat like this, you’ll find that you remain full for a longer duration of time. Also, with regular practice, you’ll eat less but feel more satisfied.
Social media is full of preachy quotes on practicing gratitude these days. What’s it all about? How’s it related to mindfulness or healthy snacking?
You need to realize that 1 in 9 people (that’s 795 million people) go to bed hungry every night. Additionally, the UN has estimated that 2 billion people on the planet won’t be able to fulfill their basic nutritional needs by 2050. But you are not going to be one of them! You have the privilege to choose what to eat and when to eat. Not just food (your daily 3-4 meals), you also have the choice of incorporating a variety of snacks into your diet! Isn’t that incredible enough? When you develop an attitude of gratitude for the food that you eat, automatically you eat more mindfully.
Eating mindfully also includes being aware of what you are eating and not just how you are eating it. By ‘what you are eating’, we mean two things -
What’s on your plate? - How this food is supposed to behave. What category of food (carbs, protein, fiber, etc.) it falls into and what benefits am I suppose to derive out of it.
Is it behaving the way it’s supposed to behave in my system - “Yes, milk and milk products are full of nutrients, but aren’t you lactose intolerant?” You need to develop a keen observation regarding how different foods behave in your body, your particular system.
Mindfully observe how a snack makes you feel. Ask your body and not your mind or taste buds. Do you feel energetic or lethargic after eating it? Does your system find it easily digestible or not?
This is not the usual suggestion of ‘fixing a time for everything that you eat’ which itself is a contradiction to the practice of mindfulness (if you are truly mindful, you’ll eat only when you are truly hungry). It’s more about deciding what to eat based on your previous observations of how different snacks behave differently in your system.
You can’t just replace a supposedly unhealthy snack with a supposedly healthy snack because someone says so. There is a very high probability that this system won’t work for the kind of snacks you eat because you live in different climatic, ecological, and economic conditions. So, it’s ideal to ask your body what’s best for you. Trust me, it knows everything and if you allow yourself to listen to what it’s trying to tell you, you won’t ever need to consult a dietician or a nutritionist, ever.
There are several studies that reveal that people who pick and eat their food mindfully tend to lose weight and seldom fall sick than people who do not practice mindfulness while eating. It has also been observed that practicing some form of mindfulness while eating keeps you in a happier, stress-free mental state, thus helps battle depression and anxiety. Do we need more explanations?
Published in MinfulDevMag issue #5 – Back to Issue TOC