Mindfulness describes a state of awareness. It involves being psychologically conscious of and focusing on the present moment. With its origins stemming from Buddhist traditions, mindfulness is the development of self-knowledge, correlated with greater well-being and perceived health.

Applying the concept of mindfulness to eating means focussing on what you are eating, enjoying the experience, and being aware of the importance of adding nutritional value to your body to improve your overall health.

In being ‘a mindful eater’ you will become more conscious, and aware of the foods you eat, your attitude to food, the way that you are eating and the environment in which you eat. These all have a role to play in helping you to achieve your ideal body composition and weight loss goals, particularly if you eat because of stress or battle knowing when you have had enough food.

One of the main goals of mindful eating is to assess your motivation to eat. This should ideally be in response to hunger cues. Mindfulness can help you to avoid eating for unnecessary reasons such as boredom, comfort, taste or weather to name a few.  Any unnecessary intake of food or nutrition, over and above that which you physically require, can result in weight gain and/or an increase in body fat percentage.

A core component of mindful eating involves slowing down and paying attention to what you are eating. This involves dedicating a certain amount of time to the actual task of eating, and to avoid doing other things at the same time. For example, people eat while watching TV, working at a laptop, checking news on an ipad, driving, reading a magazine, doing homework and so on and so forth. You need to prioritise eating as an event in the day and be more aware of what and how you are eating. Remove all distractions at a meal time so that focus can be given to the food dished. Eat together as a family and discuss the meal, it is an opportunity to teach children about the need and benefit to eating healthily.

Set certain times and a routine as to when you eat, making each meal an occasion whenever you can. Plan ahead as often as possible and think about the next meal before it happens. Avoid eating on the run and at the last minute as the quantity, composition and quality of the food that you eat in these situations is more likely to be questionable.

Once you are seated, and before you start eating, take a deep breath to bring you into the present moment; focus and stop thinking about or doing anything else. Take stock of how your food looks, how it smells, how it feels when you pick it up plus the overall sensation of the experience.

Eating slowly is important and will have an impact on how much food you ultimately eat at a meal. While we are eating there is a time delay between our stomachs being full and a signal being sent to our brains to turn off hunger cues. If you eat too quickly you may still feel hungry after a meal and are likely to have a second helping that you do not need. If you eat slowly and take time to chew your food pausing between each mouthful, you will probably find that you are in fact satisfied after your first helping. Putting your utensils down after each bite can also help to slow down the process.

Now, taste your food. Really taste it. Be aware of how it feels when you put it in your mouth and chew it. Savour the flavours and think about each mouthful, was it different to the last? Ask yourself how you are feeling and be aware of when you start feeling full. Sometimes it can mean eating an entire meal in silence as you master the art of mindfulness.

Gaining an appreciation of your food and the source of your food is a key part of the process. Be aware of your food from ‘farm to fork’ as the saying goes. Mindful eating can extend to choosing food farmed sustainably, using fresh local ingredients, avoiding food in plastic, as well as chopping, preparing and cooking from scratch yourself. You will find in this way that you gain a greater appreciation for foods as well as start to question your shopping habits.

For those of us who understand our genetic predisposition, mindful eating is a useful tool to try to overcome significant barriers to the success of your weight loss program. It can help to avoid the need to comfort eat, teach you ways to recognise satiation as well as prevent unnecessary snacking.

Mindful eating can start at any age. It is simply a decision to be aware of, appreciate, respect and enjoy your food. Once you practice and master this concept you will find that it starts to influence what you want to eat. This in turn can mean that you start to enjoy the health benefits from making better choices.

Article Credit: Kerryn Gibson (Kerryn is a registered dietitian in private practice in Durban and Ballito working as a paediatric dietitian and a sports dietitian).