Eating with your mouth, or your mind…?

Eating with your mouth, or your mind…?

As a registered dietitian, I believe that each person is an individual and thus their diet and meal plan should also be as individualised as possible. I believe in meal plans that have been created and calculated from scratch, using the latest guidelines and research. I like to calculate percentages of macro-nutrients that my patients should consume daily and I like to calculate the grams of food that my patients should consume per meal. I remember the first time I attended a CPD-event on the topic of mindful-eating… I remember I walked out there feeling very confused. Am I being too hard on my patients? Am I overthinking the meal plans I do? Should I switch to this approach?

Mindful eating means focusing more on the eating experience than just the act of eating. Mmmmm, does this mean we can eat whatever we feel like? As long as we use all our senses? Mindful eating means focusing more on how to eat, and less on what we eat. Mmmmm, does this mean I should sit up straight and smell all my food before eating it?

I have been teaching my patients some sort of mindful-eating techniques when they ask me if they are allowed to have a cheat-meal or cheat-day. I usually tell my patients that they are allowed to have a cheat-meal once a week, but that the cheat-meal shouldn’t become a cheat-day or cheat-weekend, or even worse; a cheat-month. I would tell my patients to have that cupcake at the birthday party or that they can have that slice of pizza with the family on a Friday-evening, but then they must promise me that they will enjoy it and not feel guilty for the next 72 hours. I also tell them to use all their senses when having a cheat-meal (this is where the mindful-eating comes in). I would tell them to look at the cupcake (look at the detail etc.), smell the cupcake, feel the cupcake in their mouths etc. I also tell my patients that it is going to happen, one day you are going to crave a KitKat… But how you react to this craving is important. If you decide on having this KitKat, don’t have it while driving in peak-time traffic and don’t have it quickly before your husband gets home. Rather tell your husband that you are craving this KitKat, buy a KitKat, share it with your husband (sharing calories), talk about your day and get over your craving!!

I decided to read a little bit about this mindful-eating technique, just to make sure that I am not missing anything… What I found is very interesting and I definitely feel that it could work for some individuals, but I also feel that it is not a realistic approach for many patients. Many patients are way to busy to use the formal mindful-eating techniques every time they eat something. Thus, I decided to still stick to my calculations, my grams, my percentages and my individual meal plans. I have however, decided to teach my patients a more informal approach to mindful eating.

When you start reading about mindful-eating the raisin meditation is quite a big hit… It is a quick and easy exercise you can do to practice mindful-eating and many experts in the field say that you should practice this twice a week, for five minutes at a time. Here goes… take a handful of raisins.
1. First just hold the raisin, feel the weight of the raisin in your hand.
2. Next, look at the raisin. Look at the texture and colour.
3. Close your eyes and touch the raisin. Squeeze it between your fingers.
4. Smell the raisin, does something happen in your mouth or in your stomach?
5. Place the raisin in your mouth, but don’t chew it. Just feel the sensation in your mouth.
6. Start chewing the raisin, don’t swallow yet.
7. Now get ready to swallow the raisin, think about it and try and feel the sensation of swallowing happen.
8. Try and feel the raising travel down in your esophagus, until it reaches your stomach

I recently started to teach my patients a more informal mindful-eating approach. Here it goes… When you feel like you want to eat something that you know you actually should not eat… take a deep breath! Ask yourself – “Am I really hungry?”

If the answer is yes, eat mindfully. This means you should check in with your hunger cues (low energy levels, feeling lightheaded etc.) and choose what you want. Be mindful while eating by paying attention to your senses, emotions and thoughts.

If the answer is no, ask yourself how you are feeling. Would you be willing to try a different approach first? I would suggest some form of self-soothing such as reading, drawing, having a cup of tea, take a nice bubble-bath, phone a friend or do some meditation. If this doesn’t work – decide what you want to eat and eat it mindful (using all your senses).

I have seen in my practice that the environment that we live in in 2019 definitely plays a huge roll when looking at mindless-eating. We are constantly in a rush, forcing us to eat while driving. We are constantly on social media, busy checking in or checking out where your friend checked in – causing us to not focus on the food that we are consuming. I would recommend to try and eat all your meals at a table, not in front of the TV on your lap, not in bed, not in the car etc. Always eat your food from a plate or bowl and never from the container you bought it in. Lastly, try to eat most of your meals with friends or family (as far as possible).

Other tips I would give:

  1. Listen to your body and stop when you are full.
  2. Slow down, chew your food for longer. It gives your brain a chance to catch up with your stomach.
    1. Time yourself during a normal meal… next time try to double it.
    2. Put your fork down after each bite
    3. Sit down when eating
  3. Avoid doing other activities while eating
  4. Focus on the flavours and tastes of healthy food – we tend to THINK we don’t like the taste
  5. Avoid all screens when eating

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