Mindful Nutrition

A mindful approach to nutrition is a way to be more aware of the processes that govern food related behaviour while helping you make the most of your meal times. This approach upgrades the enjoyment of the food we eat and makes it easy to make food choices that support health and wellbeing. Below are top 5 tips to help you be more mindful with your food.

1. Choose healthy.

It begins with what you choose to have on your plate. Choosing food that is natural, least processed, minimally packaged, fresh and varied is the easiest way to assure that your dietary intake is nutritious and of the highest quality. You do not have to know the precise composition of your food when you know that it is as close to its natural source as possible. Your body evolved to be fuelled by exactly these types of foods for hundreds of thousands of years. Your genetic blueprint is calibrated to work with foods that are minimally processed and least chemically altered. And while you can continue to enjoy alcohol, sugar and pastries etc on occasion (this will not do you harm) if you are to thrive then 80 – 90% of your nutrition has to come from foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.

DO: Choose foods that have undergone minimum processing before reaching your plate.

DON’T: Fall into the habit of making ready made and packaged foods your main source of nutrition.

2. Be mindful of your hunger cues.

Learn to listen to your body. It is the best judge of your energy requirements. Eating according to your appetite is superior and far more sustainable than any diet or nutrition plan ever created. Using hunger as the cue of when to eat will ensure that you do not fall into the habit of eating just for the sake of it.

Hunger is not the enemy. It is a signal to let you know that you may want to start fuelling up. Hunger can be a gentle reminder that it has been some time since your last meal OR it can be sign that your previous meal was not sufficient in calories and macronutrients.

Hunger is not a reason to panic as the body will function perfectly fine for many hours with only a very gradual decline in levels of energy and psychological wellbeing. Emotions associated with longer periods of hunger can vary from irritability and depression to light-headedness and general fatigue. For this reason it is important not to leave it too long before fueling up.

Note that thirst is often mistaken for hunger so make sure to stay properly hydrated.

DO: Use hunger as the first sign that it is soon time for the next meal.

DON’T: Eat food when you are not hungry. Leave it too long after hunger sets in.

3. Learn how to feel satiated/satisfied without overeating.

On the other side of the spectrum is the feeling of satiety after a meal. A pleasant and satisfied feeling when hunger disappears. This usually comes on around 20 minutes into your meal and is often accompanied by general disinterest in food. This 20 minute threshold is the exact reason you must eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly. Taking time over your meal gives your metabolism time to assess the quality and composition of your food, switching off the hunger tap and turning on the satiety tap.

The body has a precise mechanism by which it switches off hunger and turns on satiety. This is done by the action of two hormones called Ghrelin and Leptin. Suffice to say we don’t need to know much about how these critters work. They just do.

DO: Eat slowly. Chew thoroughly. Give yourself 20 minutes before going for extra helping.

DON’T: Inhale your food.

4. Disassociate emotions from your food.

Food and Stress are a bad mix. We’ve all been there. One minute you are fine, the next you are curled up in your bed with a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, bowling your eyes out, watching Bridget Jone’s diary, In your fluffy socks. No? Just me then. It’s not pretty.

Food is a powerful tool that acts on our dopamine receptors to make us happy, joyful and if the conditions are just right cause us to make all sorts of satisfied noises (Nom Nom). Hence why it is often the go to remedy in times of stress and periods of depression. And given the borderline chronic stress levels experienced by many it’s no wonder we find ourselves constantly drawn to food. Particularly food high in simple sugars that target dopamine receptors most effectively. The problem is that just like any substance that causes dopamine release, food, particularly rich in sugar, desensitises dopamine receptors making us want more to get the same effect!

I would argue that stress is often THE culprit when it comes to weight gain in a great number of individuals because food has the power to calm the psychological system. Stress leads to stressful eating. Stressful eating leads to weight gain. Both in turn reinforce stress and the cycle is repeated and compounded.

Solution

  1. Learn to eat according to physiological necessity (hunger, energy) rather than an emotional need.
  2. Your meal pattern and food choices should not alter when dealing with stress. This awareness will help you successfully manage your energy levels in times of stress.
  3. Accept that the solution to your stress trigger does not lie with food (except Ben and Jerry’s, it solves all problems) and seek external support and help.

5. Create a regular meal pattern/schedule.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. At conventional times. With none or minimal snacking. That’s the way it worked for as long as we can remember. Your body carves stability. Regularly spaced meals do two things:

1. Let your body know that food is plentiful and is readily available. The result is metabolism that does not store fat for fear of unanticipated hunger.

2. Regular timed meals allow you to get on with life and work, uninterrupted by frequent feeding and thoughts of food.

While there are many different recommendations on meal timings and frequency the approach must be individual. Longer days may call for 4 meals instead of 3. If you are a fitness enthusiast your nutrition intake will vary to accommodate you athletic goals. But for health and overall well-being it is best to stick to pattern that suits your personal lifestyle.

DO: Keep consistent with your meal pattern and anticipate your day to plan the meals accordingly.

DON’T: Eat erratically. Skip meals.

Read more on meal frequency here.

Final Note – Take time to enjoy your food.

While it is true that eating slower makes the body more receptive to the quality, composition and quantity of the food we eat let us not forget that eating is a source of pleasure in itself.

The only way to truly appreciate the flavour, texture and taste of the food is to savour each mouthful. This way eating slowly becomes less about the sterile science of satiety, hunger and fat loss and more about the enjoyment of your meal. And what can be better than that.

With healthy wishes,

Dmitri Tkatchev

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