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Why You Should Practice Mindful Eating (the benefits and my experience)

I grew up like most, on the Standard American Diet… you know the one. Plenty of processed snacks in the house, fast food when we were in a rush, the only way I’d eat vegetables, was if they were swimming in ranch dressing (which was filled with high-fructose corn syrup). We thought by getting fast food salads and by microwaving veggies at dinner, we were still pretty healthy.

As I grew older and developed an affinity for nutrition, I started listening to the mainstream diet advice out there. Counting calories, banishing oils and fats from my diet, and relying on 100 calorie packs of cookies to curb my impulses to snack all day long from stress and anxiety I barely recognized I had. This all came to a head in college when I started packing the weight on and feeling fatigue, getting sick even more regularly than I did as a child, and eventually confirming my lifetime of “bad periods” was in fact, PCOS. I was put on the Birth Control Pill and comfortably stayed on that for nearly 10 years while still navigating the mainstream diet advice we’ve all been through a million times. Cut to my late 20’s, getting married and off birth control to trigger Hashimoto’s Autoimmune Disease (or, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis). I was losing hair, experiencing depression and anxiety, had no energy, severe joint pain, and was all-in-all driving my body into the ground with a stressful career, a lifetime of questionable food and meds, over-exercising, and no clue as to what was really going on.

After becoming a nutritionist and seeking out my own answers, working with holistic practitioners and finding yoga and meditation… holistic wellness became a huge part of my life. I felt empowered to take my health into my own hands between my kitchen and with mindfulness, the more I practiced. It was the only thing truly making a difference. I started to learn that I had to focus less on “fixing my body” and more on loving my body and how I nourished it. That is no overnight process after a lifetime of mindless snacking, not being educated on my health, and trying to fit myself into a mold of what health looked like. I had diet fatigue, my metabolism was slower, and I was struggling with my symptoms… I fully recognized the relationship I had with food and my body turned into fear and it was time to turn things around.

That’s when I decided to try Mindful Eating.

What is Mindful Eating?

Mindful Eating is not another diet. Instead, it’s a practice of mindfulness during meals to get more in tune with your body’s hunger/satiation cues and much more. It helps to re-connect the mind-body for physical, emotional, and mental sensations while eating. It’s less about what you eat, and more about how you eat including tactics such as slowing down, breathing, chewing food well, and more.

How I use Mindful Eating

Personally, when I started practicing mindful eating, it was a mind-blowing experience. Slowing down is not my nature and certainly not with food! Those processed snacks I grew up with were always being replenished regularly because we’d sit by the TV going through sleeves of chocolate chip cookies and fun size bags of chips… just because. I didn’t know another way. Our culture doesn’t often reward anyone or anything for slowing down. So it’s often the hardest part of mindful eating and mindfulness in general, but I took it as a practice and went slow. 

Benefits of Mindful Eating

What I noticed right off the bat was less bloating, smoother digestion, fewer cravings/binging urges when stressed, and a more enjoyable meal experience overall. All of these issues were major pain points for me, even as a passionate cook and nutritionist. I started recognizing when food fear was creeping in, and how obsessed I was with my chronic bloating. I immediately noticed a change in all of those things with mindful eating after barely a week.

How to try Mindful Eating Right Now

There are many practices to try, but the 3 most impactful I like to start my nutrition clients are:

  1. Sit down and take 3 deep breaths before starting your meal. This puts you into the parasympathetic state (AKA, “rest and digest” state) which is crucial for digestion and for being more present with what we are doing.
  2. Put all devices/distractions away while eating. Once again, our culture promotes multi-tasking and short lunch breaks… but can we admit that’s not working? It’s really increasing our stress, cortisol, and keeping us in fight or flight mode while over-stimulating us. It takes us farther from being present and mindful and keeps us scattered and overwhelmed. Leave the cell, social media, laptop, and TV for another time. When you’re eating, only eat so you can pay attention to the food in front of you and the company you might be with. This gets you being more present and noticing things you hadn’t before such as the color and taste of your food!
  3. Slow down & chew your food well. If you inhale your food… which many of us default to doing, this is for you! By chewing your food until you can’t anymore, you’ll naturally slow down. You can also try setting your fork down while chewing until you’ve swallowed before taking another bite. This sets us up for optimal nutrient absorption and smoother digestion.

All of these tips have become non-negotiable for me and all of my clients remark to me how life-changing this practice really is. The calmness you can experience translates beyond just the meal itself and long after the longer you practice it. Not to mention, it translates to better health with less gas, bloating, more regular digestion, and stronger nutrient absorption because since our digestion begins in our brain, we’ve kicked off the process more successfully right from the get-go.

Now, this practice has translated into habits for me that has helped heal the relationship with my body and food while supporting healthier digestion, which no supplements and meds were ever able to do on a long-term basis. This is a truly valuable experience that anyone can try at their own pace for real results.

-Alison Marras
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