Tuesday, 26 May 2015

How (And Why) To Be A Mindful Eater

Hi again Fodmappers

As Fodmappers we know we need to be mindful of what we eat but is that the same as mindful eating?

Today I am delighted to bring you a special guest post from my friend, and fellow health blogger, the fabulous Samantha Russell. I hope you enjoy.

How (and Why) to be a Mindful Eater

Are you looking for a simple way to boost the goodness you already get from your meals? Mindful eating might be the practice you’re looking for.

It’s becoming increasingly obviously that when it comes to health, wellness, and food there is a lot more going on than simply the kinds of foods we eat. While following a low FODMAP diet is an awesome way for many people to work on digestive issues, health concerns, IBS, or other health situations, we can also start to look at our thoughts and behaviours and use them to improve our lives too. In this post we are going to explore the idea of ‘mindful eating’ and how this practice can help you do everything from get more pleasure and nutrition from your food, to aid your digestion and help you lose weight. It’s exciting stuff!

Why try mindful eating?

So, first of all, why should you care about mindful eating? Isn’t eating nutrient-dense, low FODMAP food enough?

Well, it certainly can be, but if you want even more bang for your buck when it comes to your way of eating, getting mindful can have a range of benefits including:

  • Finding more pleasure in food
  • More efficient digestion
  • Improvement of digestive complaints
  • Improvement of emotional or binge eating behaviours
  • Being better able to hear the bodies hunger and fullness signals

How can simply being mindful achieve all this? As I see it, there are two main ways:

1. When you sit down to a meal, or really pay attention to what you are eating, feel it, smell it, and see it, you begin what’s called the ‘cephalic phase of digestion’. Basically, this is the very first phase of your digestive system, and it’s in your head. That’s right - our digestion starts in the brain!

When you see, smell, taste, or even vividly imagine food and eating your body begins to prepare to digest the food. You literally ‘get your juices flowing’. Wikipedia suggests that a whole 20% of your gastric secretions (juices in your tummy and gut that helps you break down and absorb your food) comes from this ‘head phase’ of digestion - so if you’re not paying attention and don’t stop to notice or think about your food, you’re missing out on a big contribution to your digestive system. Obviously, if you are having issues with your digestion then you want all the help you can get, so eating mindfully and getting the cephalic digestive phase going is a great idea.

2. When you concentrate on eating and enjoying your food, you relax. Relaxation is really important to digestion, pleasure, and appetite. The more you notice your food, the less you will worry about other things and this allows your body to properly send, receive, and act on all the complex messages and reactions that need to happen for healthy, happy mealtimes. Stress is a major contributor to digestive complaints, and so relieving stress, especially while we are eating and immediately after is essential to improving your experience.

What is mindful eating?

Ok, so that list of benefits and explanations has you interested? Now you want to know: What is mindful eating and how can I do it?

Well, the simple part is that mindful eating means really being present when you eat. Pay attention to your food, think about eating as you do it, and feel the experience of eating. This means no multi-tasking during meals or snacks. It as easy (and as difficult!) as that.

So, how do you do it?

  • Eat slowly (Harvard Medical School has some suggestions on how to do this)
  • Use your senses to explore your food (sight, smell, taste, touch, sound)
  • Focus on eating. This famous study found that distraction (in this case listening to two different lectures at the same time) reduced the amount of water participants absorbed for an hour after they drank it. If we can’t even efficiently absorb water while distracted, proper nutrition is going to suffer as well.
  • Sip your drink and chew your food. This will not only help you slow down, but will mean you can taste your food (yay for cephalic phase digestion!), and it’ll be really well prepared for great digestion once it makes it to your stomach and intestinal tract.
  • Be prepared for thoughts and emotions. You may find some stuff comes up when you slow down and eat mindfully. Stress around food, body image, eating, health, or anything can bubble to the surface when given this kind of quiet and space to do so. The best thing to do is to try to let it go and return your attention you eating. Jot it down to think about later if you must, but don’t get caught up now. Now is for the food.

However you feel like achieving it, that is totally fine. You may like music while you eat, you may prefer the quiet - it’s all about how it feels to you. There are a couple of things you should try to avoid, though.

What shouldn’t you do?

  • Over analyse or over-think. You don’t have to spend 45 minutes with a handful of nuts, sniffing each one and imaging it growing from a seed, being harvested, blah blah blah, until you eat it. You just have to eat the nuts and think about eating the nuts while you’re doing it.
  • Stress about it. The whole point of mindful eating is stress reduction. If you’re trying out a technique and it leaves you MORE worried, stressed, or feeling like you ‘failed’, stop doing that! Try something else, be gentle with yourself, and enjoy the process.

This whole process should feel good, pleasurable, and kind. Sure, it may be a little uncomfortable at times, as you deal with old habits, stale or out-dated beliefs or emotions, and so on, but I trust you to know the difference between those feelings and when something is legitimately not working for you.

So, if you are on a journey to better digestion try practicing mindful eating as you go. I’m positive it will have nothing but benefits and is a perfect accompaniment to the wonderful recipes here at Fabulous FODMAPS!

This post was written by Samantha Russell, the blogger and Eating Psychology coach behind Live the Whole. Her site and services are dedicated to helping people be happy, healthy, and whole no matter who they are, where they are, or what they do. She takes a holistic mind-body approach to health, with a particular focus on the effects of stress, psychology, and belief systems on our health. You can read more from Samantha at livethewhole.com

'Til next time Fodmappers - Stay Fabulous. x


  1. I totally agree with you. I always try to eat mindfully. No popcorn I n a movie theater for me.

    1. That's great, Eva! The movie theater is such a hard place to eat mindfully!

  2. This is very interesting. I will definitely try some of these tips soon.

  3. Wonderful blog, thank you so much - mindful eating is something I definitely need to practice more regularly x

  4. What a great article. So many times I sit down to a meal and rush through it. I even sometimes get excited about a new dish and eat it so fast I miss REALLY enjoying it! You've shared some great thoughts/ideas here. Thanks!