Savour the flavour!
This means appreciating your meal by eating meal components at a slower pace to fully embrace all aspects of the sensory experience, much like the practice of wine tasting. The “chocolate/ raisin test” is one suggested snacking practice which enhances the eating experience even with a very small amount of food.
A study investigating ‘The Slow Down Program’ as a mindfulness-based stress management and nutrition education program for mothers, aimed to evaluate the effects of mindful practice such as the raisin test, and employed techniques for stress reduction. They found that the sensory experience of eating was greatly improved, and stress levels reduced (1).
Eat with your eyes
Creating meals and buying food products that look visually appealing on top of tasting great falls into mindful eating practice as it engages us further in what we are eating (2). This may improve our appreciation and enjoyment of the meal. Many of us can recall looking at food so beautiful it was almost too good to eat!
It should be noted however that creating appetising food does not mean covering everything with chocolate and edible glitter. Instead, we can try making meals more colourful by including vegetables such as red and yellow peppers, butternut squash, fresh avocado, beetroot and seasoning with herbs.
Also, the action of presenting food components on the plate gives us time to see whether we are going to be eating a mixture of meal components, and in what portion sizes- the more variety the better!
One study by Konig and Renner (2018) sought to investigate whether choosing more colourful meals really does indicate healthier food choice. They discovered that increased perceived meal colour variety was linked with higher intake of vegetables and lower intake of sugary foods, suggesting that eating colourfully is a promising strategy to promote more intuitive, healthy eating practices (3).
Ditch the Tech
It is common practice for millennials to bring mobile phones to the dinner table and many people may make a practice of watching TV whilst eating dinner (4). Eating a pizza and watching a movie is a brilliant idea for night in but making regular practice of this sort of thing could be destructive to health. The more developed our relationship is with fresh, healthy food the better, which means paying attention to our meal whilst we are eating.
Advertisements and programmes which promote hedonic eating practices may also be detrimental, and often promote westernized food choices. One study looking at remote acculturation theory found that adolescents and their mothers watching a larger number of US TV programmes were more likely to consume unhealthy foods on a regular basis (5).
If you do not already cook very much, it may be beneficial to try and cook for yourself or other people, starting off with dishes that are not too intimidating. This is because cooking from scratch can enlighten us about which components make up a dish, expose us to the sensory aspects of foods during the cooking process and increase gratefulness for the finished product after all our hard work cooking in the kitchen! It can also be exciting to try and cook with ingredients that we may never have tried before and experiment with new flavours. This process can be therapeutic leading up to the final eating stage of the meal. Cooking is one strategy covered by “mindful food parenting” which aims to improve awareness around healthy eating practice among children, and it is integrative for the whole family (2, 6).
This again highlights the importance of knowing where our food comes from and enhancing our connection with raw food products. This enables us to use foods when they are properly ripe and eliminates use of chemicals such as pesticides. This is so important for improving the nutritional content and quality of our dishes (2).
Connection with nature has been found to significantly impact eating behaviour and is certainly mindful. One study investigated the potential of learning about food in school vegetable gardens, with the researcher concluding that the garden created an appropriate environment to talk about non-communicable diseases, food choice and dynamics of food production (7).
Accounting for our own cultural practices during mealtimes can ensure that mindfulness is a communal event. Many cultures embrace the action of sharing dishes between all individuals at the table, some include prayer before meals and others allow food to settle before doing other activities. These practices can help us to feel more relaxed, connected to ourselves and our loved ones during mealtimes (2).
What are you grateful for?
It is common to always be wanting more than what we currently have, and the same thoughts can apply to food, so how often do we ask how grateful we are for food? For some the situation remains where they will not receive enough food even to sustain them. It is a part of mindful practice to think about where our food comes from, how it is provided to us and how it restores our supplies, enabling us to feel more grateful about our access to whatever food we may be consuming.
Other Benefits of Mindful Eating
An interesting review by Cherpack (2019) assesses the ‘Stress-Digestion-Mindfulness triad’ and highlights that mindful eating may be benefiting gastrointestinal function by employing de-stressing techniques and promoting parasympathetic nervous system dominance (8). This may be extremely useful for those who suffer with IBS, Crohn’s disease, and other related GI conditions. As many of us also know, the gut can be thought of as the “second brain” because it so actively communicates with the brain to influence activity. In fact, both influence each other bidirectionally via the gut-brain axis, meaning that by improving gastrointestinal function, mental health is likely to improve (9). Mindful eating appears to be the gift that keeps on giving!
Take Home Message
Mindful eating is not intended as a fad diet to be employed over a few months whilst you are trying to lose weight or alter food behaviour; like mindfulness itself it is intended to gradually improve our way of thinking to be healthier, more balanced, non-judgemental, compassionate, intuitive, and accepting. It is about making changes to our way of life and may require a lot of patience, depending on how much we already employ these practices.
I hope mindful eating may improve your relationship with food. Happy eating!
About the Blog Author
Thank you to the guest writer Bethany Durrant for writing this 2 part blog. Bethany qualified as a practitioner in BSc (Hons) Herbal Medicine at Lincoln University in 2017 and is currently studying MSc Nutrition and Behaviour at Bournemouth University, graduating this year.
After her undergraduate degree, Bethany took a few years away from studying to work as a healthcare support worker in NHS settings, on a mental health ward and an inpatient hospital pharmacy. Her passion lies in mental health, behavioural change, nutrition/ supplementation, and holistic therapy for management of health conditions.
She is looking forward to having her own alternative therapy practice, which will include nutritional support, hopefully soon.
“The ultimate aim is to increase vitality and quality of life for individuals.”
Bethany writes a blog on nutritional, therapeutic, and spiritual practice, and she can be found via the following channels:
MIND (2021) Mindfulness. Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/mindfulness/mindfulness-exercises-tips/
Second Nature (2020) Mind. Available at: https://www.secondnature.io/guides/category/mind
Headspace (2021) Mindful Eating. Available at: https://www.headspace.com/mindfulness/mindful-eating
1. Kennedy, L. E., Misyak, S., Hosig, K., Duffey, K. J., Ju, Y. and Serrano, E., 2018. The Slow Down Program: A mixed methods pilot study of a mindfulness-based stress management and nutrition education program for mothers. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 38, 1-6.
2. Méndez, R., Goto, K., Song, C., Giampaoli, J., Karnik, G. and Wylie, A., 2020. Cultural influence on mindful eating: traditions and values as experienced by Mexican-American and non-Hispanic white parents of elementary-school children. Global Health Promotion, 27 (4), 6-14.
3. König, L. M. and Renner, B., 2018. Colourful = healthy? Exploring meal colour variety and its relation to food consumption. Food Quality and Preference, 64, 66-71.
4. Nelson, J. B., 2017. Mindful Eating: the Art of Presence While You Eat, 171.
5. Ferguson, G. M., Muzaffar, H., Iturbide, M. I., Chu, H. and Meeks Gardner, J., 2018. Feel American, Watch American, Eat American? Remote Acculturation, TV, and Nutrition Among Adolescent-Mother Dyads in Jamaica. Child Development, 89 (4), 1360-1377.
6. Giampaoli, J., Goto, K., Hart, S. R., Sheng, Y. and Wylie, A., 2019. Factors Associated with Mindful Food Parenting Practices. Californian Journal of Health Promotion, 17 (1), 45-60.
7. Hunter-Adams, J., 2019. School Vegetable Gardens as a Site for Reciprocity in Food Systems Research: An Example from Cape Town, South Africa. Community Literacy Journal, 14 (1), 65-72.
8. Cherpak, C. E., 2019. Mindful Eating: A Review Of How The Stress-Digestion-Mindfulness Triad May Modulate And Improve Gastrointestinal And Digestive Function. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal, 18 (4), 48-53.
9. Schnorr, S. L. and Bachner, H. A., 2016. Integrative Therapies in Anxiety Treatment with Special Emphasis on the Gut Microbiome. The Yale journal of biology and medicine, 89 (3), 397-422.