Homemaker Hitaishi Amoghavarsha has a bone to pick with her 30-year-old techie husband. Her chronic complaint is that he does not savour the food that she prepares. Her excitement, she says, goes low after seeing her husband wolfing down his food without even looking at what has been served “because he is too busy with office meetings/calls.”
On the contrary, Hitaishi gets excited while she feeds her two-year-old son Harshil, who enjoys identifying veggies and ingredients served on his platter.
Another young mother Sumitra Raju, from Chitradurga, complains that her 19-year-old son Tejas never pays attention while eating and always uses a phone with the earphones on. She also says that he has put on some unwanted weight due to his eating habits.
Similar stories abound in most households. Eating has become a mere act of stuffing food into the gut owing to the clock. This can end up being troublesome to our health. This is where mindfulness sets in. It is the practice of being aware of one’s body, mind, and feelings while focusing on the present moment and thoughts to ignite a sense of calm. Ranjani Raman, chief dietitian and founder of Nutrition Tattva from Bengaluru, defines mindful eating as, “being present completely while eating, involving all the senses in the process.”
The goal of being mindful while eating is to reduce the time spent in the automatic pilot mode and being aware of the body’s internal and physical cues.
What is mindful eating
Ranjani says true nourishment comes by building a connection with every morsel of food that goes in. And this connection can be established only when one pays attention to what one is eating. Adding to Ranjani’s view, another nutritionist from Delhi, Aaina Singhal, says that mindful eating is all about feeling the taste, aroma, and texture of food one consumes.
Five principles of mindful eating
- Rate of eating – It is the time taken to eat one meal. It depends on the time taken to chew each morsel while eating. It is hypothesised that a slower rate of eating results in reduced food intake. A systematic review and meta-analysis on the effects of chewing, on appetite, food intake, and gut hormones suggest that chewing significantly decreases self-reported hunger and food intake.
- Hunger and satiety awareness – Eating food in response to hunger and stopping in response to satiety (fullness) contributes to mindfulness. Being able to feel and appreciate the feeling of hunger and fullness and not eating as a response to emotions (cravings) is very crucial in mindful habits.
- Portion control – It is all about picking the right amount of nutrients in the diet. An increased meal portion is often regarded as one of the chief contributing factors to metabolic disturbances such as obesity, diabetes mellitus, and polycystic ovary syndrome.
- Avoidance of distractions – Distractions such as watching TV, using phones and laptops, talking too much, and working while eating can significantly interact with metabolism. Researchers from the Department of Psychology and Program in Neuroscience and Behaviour at the University of Massachusetts have established that watching television while eating increases calorie consumption (high fat, high frequency of meals or overall daily intake of calories).
- Savouring food – Enjoying the food is another important aspect of mindful eating. Using all the senses to feel the taste, flavour, consistency, or colour of the food is important to making the right dietary choices. Research done to understand whether the environment in which one eats can influence the acceptance and intake of food, found that there were significant interactions between small (table setting) and large scale (eating location) eating environments in modulating food perception and consumption. The study noted that as compared to a ‘poorly-matched’ pair, a ‘well-matched’ pair of table settings and eating locations, such as a gourmet table setting in a restaurant, “increased the hedonic impression for the appearance of served food, the willingness to eat the food, and the amount of food.”
Benefits of mindful eating
“It helps in building a positive relationship with food,” says Ranjani. When one eats mindfully, one pays complete attention to the food and that positively impacts the relationship with it.
Ranjani adds that often, people realise the value of healthy eating only after a wake-up call: a medical condition or an alarming symptom. Hence, one must try to understand the bond that one builds with real food.
“Brings discipline in controlling meal portion”
Singhal emphasises that mindfulness plays an important role in deciding what to eat and what not to. She also says that it helps us in choosing food wisely from all the groups such as carbs, protein, fats, and fibres.
Research finding reveals that mindfulness “brings down binge eating and emotional eating habits.” A 2021 meta-analysis study conducted by researchers from the School of Life and Medical Sciences, University of Hertfordshire, UK, studied the role of mindful eating habits in reducing binge eating. They evaluated 20 studies and concluded that mindful habits reduce the severity of binge eating. However, they suggest further large-scale studies on the same.
Nutritionists Payal Rangar, Ranjani Raman and Aina Singhal recommend some tips for inculcating mindfulness while eating:
- Take out some time to eat your food
- Appreciate your hunger and thirst
- Eat only in response to your hunger
- Never eat when you are stressed, anxious or agitated
- Always eat in a calm environment
- Eat with family or friends
- Pray before you eat to calm your mind
- Leave your gadgets aside while eating
- Appreciate your food by taking small bites and chewing slowly.
- One must take time to chew food at least 25-30 times for better absorption
- It is important to take at least 20 minutes to complete a meal and not eat in a rush
- Use all your five senses to experience the flavours
- Eat only until your stomach is 90 per cent full