Why eating too fast and not paying attention to your food could be detrimental…
When was the last time you were present while eating your food?
In this day and age, most of us live on a very busy schedule. We rush from place to place, completing one task after another, and food is just something ‘you grab when you can’. We quickly try shove something down, while thinking about the next activity.
All during the process of rushing around, our conscious brain does not process that we have eaten as much as we have. What makes it worse is most of us have fallen into the habit of eating while being occupied by something else. This includes watching TV, being on phones, or even checking emails. Most are unaware what impact this perceived multitasking has on our digestive system.
Recent studies have found that when our attention is not on our food, it can have detrimental consequences. These include:
When your attention is elsewhere, it becomes difficult to know how much you are eating, and when you are actually full. You are more likely to overeat when your attention is focused elsewhere other than on your food. According to a 2017 study published by Cambridge University Press, slowing down and being more present while you eat decreased the incidence of binge eating episodes 1.
2. Emotional Eating:
Have you ever been sad, bored, or stressed and found yourself reaching for something inside the fridge time and time again? When you eat, your body releases serotonin and dopamine, which are known are our ‘happy chemicals’ in the body. These chemicals are released when you are feeling happy or if something is perceived as positive.
If you consume food with sugar in it, your body releases an enormous amount of serotonin and dopamine, which activates your brain’s reward system – also known as your mesolimbic dopamine system. This firing of the reward system reinforces the action or behavior, which motivates us to want to repeat the action.
A few studies have found that when you consume sugar (or sugar substitutes), it activates the same areas of the brain as cocaine. When mice have been presented with the choice to drink from sugar water or cocaine water, they chose the sugar water. Thus, concluding that sugar was more addictive than cocaine.
Now back to the kitchen fridge. Once you have snacked on chocolate in the fridge, you get this rush, which temporarily reduces the feelings you had before. However, this is only temporary. Once your plate is empty, you begin to feel guilty for what you have consumed, as well as the increased stress or unhappiness you felt before reaching for the fridge. According to a 2014 study, mindfulness eating reduces the amount of emotional eating one does, in addition to reducing their overall stress/anxiety2
Have you ever felt bloated or uncomfortable, even if you have not eaten anything inflammatory? Our nervous system is designed to take perceptions of the outside world, and combine them with our internal environment. This means while you are eating if your attention spotlight is focused on your deadlines, or your eating ‘on the go’, your heart rate will be elevated.
This is perfectly normal when you are stressed, but because you are eating in this state, your body is not relaxed enough to digest the food. An elevated heart rate gets your body in a flight or fight mode, which is equipped for running away from danger, not digesting food. As a consequence, the food particles do break down properly, thus remaining in the alimentary canal of the digestive system. This leads to bloating, nausea, sluggishness, and nutrients from the food that is not digested properly.
By mindfully eating.
4. Weight Gain:
Weight gain becomes a byproduct of overeating, emotional eating, and poor digestion. Since mindful eating is shown to reduce overeating, decrease emotional eating, and increase digestion, it therefore affects your overall health and wellbeing. Additionally, it improves the relationship you have with food. Since mindfulness is strongly associated with gratitude, it changes your narrative of food from, “this is going to make me fat” to, “I am so grateful I have this lovely food in front of me”. One you are negatively rejecting the food before it has entered your body, while the other is being thankful and consciously being open to positively receiving the food.
Eating disorders and the effect it has on our bodies are rising, as each year we not only have higher expectations for how we should look, we also neglect the awareness of eating the food. By implementing a mindfulness eating pattern, it is moving away from an unhealthy relationship with food and yourself, to one of love.
What does mindfulness eating look like …
Essentially, it is drawing your attention to your food in a positive way. The whole process of eating and digestion begins before you take your first bite.
Seeing the food being made, smelling the food, and holding the food are all factors that get the digestion going before you have begun to take your first bite. As mentioned, before taking your first bite, just taking a moment to be grateful for the food you have, it will have a profound effect on the relationship you have with food.
Next is the process of cutting your food and taking the first bite.
Be aware of how you chew the food, what are the individual flavors and smells.
Did you know that smell affects how you taste your food?
Individuals who have trouble smelling altogether report food as bland and tasteless. Notice your environment or any other sensations that revolve around the process of eating.
All of these sensations contribute to the brain processing that you are in fact eating, and when you have had enough.
Give it a try and comment below on your experiences!
1. N.Kattermana, S., M.Kleinmanb, B., M.Hooda, M., M.Nackersa, L., & A.Corsica, J. (2014, April). Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: A systematic review. Eating Behaviours , 15(2), 197-204.
2. Warren, J. M., Smith, N., & Ashwell, M. (2017, July 18). A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. The Nutrition Society, 1-5