Mindful eating - finding ways to be kinder to yourself
It’s not just what we eat that affects our health. Scientists have identified biochemical and social determinants that affect our relationship with food and health. Therefore to understand more about our relationship with food and how it has an affect on our health we need to be curious and ask “why and how am I eating?”.
We eat for lots of different reasons and food fulfils many social roles in our lives. How we respond to physical and emotional triggers as well as social determinants will influence our food choices and how we are caring for ourselves nutritionally.
Our bodies are an amazing system that are constantly sending out chemical messengers to feed back to our brains when to eat and when to stop eating. We have the resources to be intuitive eaters and as babies we are predominantly that, but social conditioning from the point of conception can change how we trust and listen to these subtle cues. And in turn those internal signals become quieter than the surrounding noise, and we may find that we are eating when we are not hungry to fit around busy schedules or we are eating in response to emotional triggers. And we might find that we are still eating when we are physically full and fit to burst. As a consequence, when we are eating out of synchronisation with our bodies, some people find that feelings of guilt and shame follow and this self-judgement cycle can lead to food restriction, overeating or yo-yo dieting which have shown to have a negative impact on well-being and health outcomes.
Eating in response to emotional triggers is associated with responding to different stressors in life such as work, relationships or family and mood. And you don’t need to be a scientist to see that busy lives and more technology is increasing stress levels among populations, which in turn can affect eating and sleep patterns. As a consequence, this can drive food choices that may be more comforting than nutritious and exacerbate stress rather than relieve it.
Stress stimulates the release of cortisol which is an important hormone in maintaining homeostasis. However studies have shown that a prolonged release of cortisol through constant stressors can, depending on a person’s response to stress, induce overeating that in turn can influence the storage of adipose tissue around the abdomen. This is a primal mechanism from our ancestors who would have benefited from this storage because it promotes the liberation of fatty acids at a faster rate, which is needed in those fight or flight moments such as running away from a lion (not so common now). However amongst today’s population, the prolonged release of hormones in the stress response is associated with hypertension and heart disease. Food and drinks (caffeine or alcohol) cannot satisfy an emotional need.
So how can being more mindful about what I am eating help?
Mindful eating practices and mindfulness meditation can:
- Increase awareness and acceptance of different emotional and social triggers that influence eating.
- Increase awareness of how different foods stimulate appetite and emotional responses.
- Reduce stress response by becoming more emotionally resilient to life’s stressors.
- Improve well-being.
- Reduce dieting mentality.
- Achieve a healthy weight through healthy behaviours.
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