World Obesity Day on 4 March aims to shine a spotlight on creating a healthier future. Mindful eating is an excellent example of a healthy habit when it comes to eating.
Kim Hofmann, a Registered Dietitian with an Honours in Psychology and Virgin Active’s expert advisor on all things nutrition shares the below five fail-proof tips to adopting a more mindful approach to enjoying your food.
What it means to eat mindfully
Eating mindfully, while being cognisant of our emotions and circumstances, can go a long way in helping us to listen to our bodies and stomach hunger, as we strive to find balance in our eating behaviours. Diet culture and our hectic lifestyles have had a significant impact on our eating habits, which have only gotten worse throughout the global pandemic. Listening to what our bodies want through mindful eating that focuses on our biological (so-called) ‘stomach hunger’ rather than our emotional (so-called) ‘head hunger’ is the first step towards healthy eating habits.
5 mindful eating tips
1. Differentiate between the hunger in your stomach and in your head: We need to learn how to retrain our brains and thinking patterns to differentiate between the hunger we feel in our bodies and stomachs from the perceived hunger we experience in our minds or through our emotions.
Take a step back and ask yourself, “Which part of my body craves the food? Is it my body because I am genuinely feeling a sense of hunger, or is head and emotions?” It’s even possible that the hunger you feel in your body may even be a case of being thirsty.
2. Tune into your body to practise mindful eating: Aim to be more intuitive and pay attention to the signals your body sends because at the end of the day our bodies are always right.
Eating portion-controlled meals every 3-5 hours can help you to establish an eating pattern that will help you to recognise real hunger, which is a feeling of emptiness in the stomach that is caused by low blood sugar levels. Wait for at least 10-15 minutes after you’ve finished your meal before going back for seconds. This allows that feeling of fullness (satiety) to travel from your stomach to your brain, at which point you may no longer feel a sense of hunger.
3. Balance is the first step forward: More often than not, diets are very short-lived because they require constant willpower and expect us to cut out particular foods or food groups entirely. This isn’t feasible and is very challenging to maintain. Diet culture often leaves us feeling restricted, disillusioned and demotivated in the long run, as our weight climbs back to where it was when we first started. In reality, we need to take a more wholesome approach to eating and embrace a balanced approach to food – allowing ourselves to eat every single kind of food we crave from time to time, as long as it makes up part of a balanced, portion-appropriate meal that includes all macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) from all the food groups.
4. Don’t be too strict, it’s acceptable to have an occasional treat: It’s ok to indulge in a snack or a treat from time to time – but when you do ask yourself: “Do I want to eat it or do I need to eat it?”. This will help you to distinguish between stomach and head hunger. If you do decide to indulge on a treat, do so wholeheartedly without any of the guilt that is so often associated with eating processed foods, sweets, snacks and treats. Give yourself the time and space to indulge in it slowly – rather than scoffing it down or trying to hide it because it is considered to be a ‘naughty’ food.
5. Be patient, give yourself time: If you do overindulge, see it as a learning experience – it doesn’t undo all of the hard work you’ve put in! Your journey towards a healthier you is an ongoing process – it is not something that is linear in nature.
This lifelong journey to wellbeing and better self-care begins with each new day.