By Ernesta Stripeikaite
Nutritional Therapist

Has eating become an inconvenient chore that interrupts work? Or is it a source of comfort when you’re feeling emotional? Such eating habits can disturb digestion, result in bloating, over eating and weight gain. It is time to become mindful about what and how we eat. Awareness and tuning in can help understand why you are eating – is it hunger or anger?

1. Take 5

There are two types of the nervous system: sympathetic nervous system (SNS), also called ‘fight or flight’, which gets switched on when we are under stress, and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), or ‘rest and digest’, which is active when we are relaxed. Our bodies have not been designed to focus on digestion when they can sense danger. Nowadays danger comes in the form of emails, phone calls and deadlines. To switch to the ‘rest and digest’ system, use a thumb rule of TAKE 5 – five calm deep breaths before every meal. This helps to switch to the PNS system, activating relaxation and efficient digestion.

2. The most important thing

Mindfulness means being in the present moment, here and now, rather than worrying about the past or projecting into the future. At meal times, eating should be the most important thing in the world. Focus on your plate of food, colours and textures, and forget the world around exists. You will taste and enjoy your food a lot more.

3. Digestion starts in the mind

Contrary to a popular belief, digestion starts in the mind, not the mouth. Simply thinking about food triggers responses in the brain and signals to the digestive tract to start producing saliva and stomach acid, in preparation for the meal. If you focus on emails while eating your lunch, you will not be digesting optimally. This will reduce the absorption of nutrients, leading to increased hunger and cravings.

4. Slow down

Slowing down to chew, taste, see and smell food increases awareness of hunger and fullness. Not only that, but your enjoyment and pleasure of meal times can also increase. As a result, you might naturally become tempted to choose healthier, tastier and more colourful meals.

5. Choose your surroundings

It is very important where you eat. Restaurants try to create a calm and relaxing environment so you can thoroughly enjoy the food and the experience. If the weather allows, try to get away from your computer at lunch time and find a bench or even better – a park outside. Changing the surroundings of the office to a neutral calming environment improves digestion and assimilation.

6. Appreciation

Say a little thanks before each meal. We take so many things for granted and generally tend to get conditioned by the society to never be content and want more and more of everything. Even if it is the most basic tuna salad or hummus with rice cakes, be grateful for the food on your plate. You will certainly enjoy it more and over long term this can lead to increased happiness and appreciation of little things in life.

Our lives are nothing more than a collection of moments that create hours and days, which turn into months and years. Practising mindful eating can quickly have an effect on the quality of your day to day life. Focusing and tuning into meal times can help increase awareness and appreciation of other little things, such as changing seasons or a smile from a stranger. The effects soon add up and can over time improve overall happiness.