The slowdown enforced on us by the COVID-19 quarantine has left many people experiencing an overwhelming urge to eat more than usual. People all over the world are posting online about how their eating habits have changed over the last few weeks, and not for the better. Unhealthy snacking and overeating have become comforts to many in this time of heightened anxiety.
With the glimmer of hope that the quarantine may soon start to be eased, comes a willingness to be healthier. We can use this time to master mindful eating, not only for healthier eating habits but for improved overall health, too.
What is mindful eating?
The Center For Mindful Eating in the U.S. says that “Our relationship to food is a central one that reflects our attitudes toward our environment and ourselves.” No surprise, then, that eating habits have changed in the current climate.
Mindful eating is a practice that brings awareness and consciousness to our eating habits. By introducing mindful eating habits, you can move back towards a way of eating that helps you feel better, both mentally and physically.
Mindful eating habits can be introduced slowly, which will help them stick. Some studies show that it takes 21 days to form a new habit—the jury is still out on this, though. Try practicing one of the habits below for a week, before introducing another one.
3 habits for you to try
Tune in to how you feel
As you reach for food, be it a snack or a meal, bring your awareness to your emotions and the environment you are in. Emotional eating is a common impulse for people in stressful situations.
Do you ever find yourself stuffing your face with chocolate and ice cream when you are upset? Likewise, meals are often heavier when we feel blue—full of lots of comforting ingredients and treats. By tuning in to how you feel, though, you can break the connection between emotions and food.
Take a moment, when you have the ingredients gathered, and check how you feel. Acknowledge any negative emotions and how they have impacted your choices. Use this awareness to swap out ingredients for healthier alternatives.
Modern life is full of distractions. Mealtimes have moved away from the kitchen table and onto sofas in front of TVs, as well as desks in front of computers. On the odd occasion that we do sit at a table to eat, there is most likely a phone within reach that beeps and lights up with notifications and calls.
With so many distractions, we no longer pay attention to the food on our plates—if, indeed, we are using a plate! This can lead to overeating, as without the visual connection of seeing food go from the plate to our mouths, our brains struggle to recognize how much food we have actually eaten. As a safe bet, the brain typically tells us we are still hungry.
Give your brain a helping hand by switching off your phone and any other screen, and sitting down at a table (or, at the very least, a quiet space) to eat your meals. You will become more mindful of the food you are eating and become aware of when you are full, which will reduce your urge to overeat.
Busyness (quarantine aside) and the always-on-the-go pressure caused by juggling work, family and everything between, can lead to rushed mealtimes. Eating quickly before we fly out the door to get to work, taking 10-minute lunches to meet our workloads—sound familiar?
The food and drinks that we put into our bodies are fuel. They directly correlate with how we feel, physically and mentally. Rushed eating can lead to digestion issues which, in turn, can cause inflammation and joint pain. You can literally age yourself by eating too quickly. Your body and mind deserve a break to enjoy and digest the fuel you are offering them.
Make a commitment to yourself that when it is time to eat, you will give yourself the time you deserve to truly enjoy the food you have prepared. Eat slowly to enjoy the flavours. Put down your knife and fork between bites, to bring your awareness to the pleasure created by a good meal. Try to introduce the rule that mealtime is ‘me time.’
As a family, you can enjoy the benefits of slowing down, too. The ritual of sharing news and stories from our days while we sit together to eat goes back centuries, maybe further. Sharing this time can bring families closer together and reduce stress for both the young and not-so-young members of the group.
Mindful eating will help your body and mind become attuned. You will learn to recognize when you are truly hungry and listen to your body by giving it the fuel it needs, rather than the food you crave.
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