Mindful Eating – for a more settled stomach

Mindfulness is often associated with meditation, but research shows that mindfulness can also be useful when applied to eating and can contribute to better function of the stomach and better health.

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is based on mindfulness, which is originally a Buddhist concept. Mindfulness consists of a group of techniques which help us to be present in the moment by noticing what is happening within us and in our immediate environment. It’s most commonly used for managing stress, worry, and anxiety, but also to overcome high blood pressure, for example. 

When it comes to eating, mindfulness has been applied with the purpose of reducing stress and worry about food and eating, but also to improve digestion and to manage several different types of stomach problems. To summarise, mindful eating means that you eliminate distractions such as TV, mobiles, etc, and focus instead on the food – its colour, texture, and taste, etc. 

Benefits of mindful eating:

  • Reduced stress – it triggers the parasympathetic nervous system that causes us to relax
  • Better mood
  • Better relationship to food and eating
  • Easier to stay at a healthy weight – can contribute to weight loss and reduction of fat around the abdomen
  • Better digestion – it results in better uptake of nutrients and a more settled stomach after a meal
  • More healthy fat levels and more stable blood sugar
  • Healthier gut flora
  • Less likelihood of becoming obese or having metabolic syndrome

Stress leads to bad habits

With a stressful everyday life, it’s easy to slip into bad eating habits – eating while standing or on the move, eating in front of your computer at work or while scrolling on your mobile. Constantly distracting yourself with other activities at the same time as eating can easily become stressful and we tend to eat too quickly and not chew enough. Since it takes about 20 minutes for the body to begin feeling full, this can cause us to eat more than we really need, which then can lead to stomach pains, bloating, and more. 

Eating too quickly can be bad for your health

Eating when stressed can also have negative health effects. If we eat a lot of food in a short time, blood sugar levels rise quickly, which results in a subsequent blood sugar drop after the meal. This causes us to reach for things like sugary treats to get some energy back into our bodies. 

Distractions and stress can also cause the body to react like it would in an escape situation – where blood is drawn away from the digestive system, which then negatively affects the digestive process. Poorer digestion can also lead to the body having more difficulty getting nutrients from food. 

Eating quickly is also associated with issues like weight gain, high blood sugar levels, and increased waist size. 

Distractions and stress can also cause the body to react as in an escape situation – then blood is drawn away from the digestive system which in turn impairs digestion. Impaired digestion can also make the body harder to extract nutrition from food.
Eating fast is also associated with things like weight gain, high blood sugar levels and increased waist size.

How to practice mindful eating

  • Remove distractions. Make sure that the environment you’re in is as free from distractions as possible. Leave the TV and computer off and put your mobile, magazines, and work projects, etc. away so that you can fully focus on your meal.
  • Allocate a time. At least 20 minutes. One tip is to set a timer for 20 minutes and try to use the whole time for eating a normal portion of food. To eat more slowly, you can try eating with your non-dominant hand, or using chopsticks instead of cutlery, for example.
  • Take small bites and chew your food properly. Chewing at least 30 times per bite is a good guideline to use. The saliva we excrete when we chew contains digestive enzymes that help to break down the food even before it reaches your stomach.
  • Engage all of your senses. Start by identifying which colours there are on your plate, for example. Take a moment to think about how the food smells and, when you take your first bite, you can carefully sense what the food tastes like, what its texture is like, and its temperature, etc.
  • Take stock of how full or hungry you are before and during the meal. Before you start eating, or even before you start preparing your food, try to locate the physical feeling of hunger, where is it in the body? Then check in with yourself during the meal to identify whether you’re starting to feel full or if you’re still hungry.

Practicing mindful eating is not something that needs to, or even can, be done every day at every meal. Instead, try integrating one or two of the tips above into one or two of your weekly meals. Then you’ll hopefully see good results in the form of both a more settled stomach and better general health. Good luck!

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  • Harvard Health
  • Dalen, J. et al. (2010)
  • Hepworth, N.S. (2010)
  • Daubenmier, J. et al. (2011)
  • Daubenmier, J. et al. (2016)
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