Mindful Eating

Mindful Eating

I recently discovered a quiet judgement I have held about people who are over weight, one that made me feel kind of ashamed of myself, one that was not even aware of.


For a very long time I have been under a completely false illusion which said:


 “I am effortlessly slim, therefore I must not be able relate to ‘unconscious' habitual or emotional eating, or in other words, eating for any other reason than for true hunger (except a desire for something sweet, like chocolate!) - this must just be something which overweight people experience”.


Well I couldn't have been more WRONG. And I’m taking a guess that I’m not the only person unaware of just how much they can in fact relate to ‘unconscious' and habitual eating, regardless of weight.


It was only during an 8 day liquids only cleanse that I came face to face with a whole myriad of uncomfortable reasons lurking underneath my “hunger”  and I realised, I really don't have my sh*t together any more than the next person.. I’m just one of the fluky ones who’s body for some reason doesn’t gain weight. 


This is not a weight loss post.


I want to talk about hunger and about how and WHY we eat.


And I want to talk about whether mindful eating matters, by looking at this question:


If we are eating nutritious health foods, does it really matter if we eat mindfully or not?


So this cleanse really got me questioning hunger, because (while I was verging on uncomfortably stuffed, full of the ever expanding psyllium and bentonite clay), the number of times I caught myself heading to the kitchen was quite shocking, when I checked in with my body, I was everything BUT hungry!


So what was I?


Of course much of the time hunger it is our brain telling our body that it needs more fuel. Yes. But what else is it?


Here are a few of mine:


  • Distraction
  • Procrastination 
  • Bordom
  • Stress 
  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness
  • Uncertainty
  • Feeling cold
  • Back ache
  • Thirst
  • Tiredness
  • Restelessness….. 
  • Can you add anything to this list? I’m very curious to hear what else lies beneath our “hunger”



I found myself intuitively using mindfulness self talk to get through the first few days cleansing.


  • How does my body actually feel right now? Sit with it, observe it. 


  • Is this really hunger?


  • Where in my body is the sensation? 


  • Maybe its in the chest? The mind? Or even a restlessness in the legs?


  • Is there something else that actually makes more sense than food right now? 

    (Like movement.. a warm drink.. writing a list or ‘brain-dump’ to relieve stress… a hug, a conversation or other kind of connection)


  • And then …is it actually just ok and even beneficial for me to feel some genuine hunger for a little while?



Granted the fact that I ‘unconsciously’ eat mostly fruit and vegetables obviously has had a pretty big influence on my health, BUT, if we forget about weight gain for a moment….. we are left with that interesting and, I think, important question. Again..


If we are eating nutritious health foods, does it really matter if we eat mindfully or not?


Well actually, it does! 


We are a snacking culture, and there are now more “healthy” snacks available then ever before. And while I'm all for some healthy snacking (natural born grazer over here!). There is good reason to be mindful and take a few minutes to check in and ask yourself:


“Is food what my body really needs right now?”


So heres why it matters.. yep, you guessed right! It’s all about digestion, the naturopaths favourite subject!


1. Mindfulness activates the ‘rest and digest’ or parasympathetic side of our autonomic nervous system.


The engagement of our ‘rest and digest’ state, means the digestive system is then prepared to receive, digest and absorb nutrients from our food. 


When eating on the go, rushing or distracted, the sympathetic or, ‘fight or flight’ nervous system is in charge. In this era of very little real (immediate) threat to survival, that may just look like rushing to the bus or opening emails, this may not seem stressful, but we are actually not in the right state for our body to receive food. Peristalsis (the movement in the gut) stops, stomach acid and digestive enzyme production slows right down, our body doesn't get the right signals that it is time to digest and absorb food.


So you could be spending a small fortune on organic nutritious whole foods, but if your body is not in the right state for proper digestion, you may not be getting as much goodness from your diet as you’d hoped.



2. Genuine hunger and PRESENCE = increased saliva + digestive juices = better digestion and absorption.

If we allow ourselves to reach genuine hunger, or we spend even just a little time preparing food, or at LEAST be really present and paying attention while we unwrap it - see it, smell it, savour the moment -  then we are giving our body the opportunity to send and receive important signals which prime it for good digestion. 


Digestion really begins with the eyes and nose, so the more beautiful, colourful and delicious smelling your food is, the better!



3. The Migrating Motor Complex!

Errr.. the what now? I hear you ask. Don't worry this guy is pretty new to me too. Here are a few facts.


  • The migrating motor complex (MMC) is like house keeping for the gut. A rhythmic wave of movement, separate from peristalsis, which moves undigested food and bacteria through the gut for elimination, it’s a clean up for the intestines.
  • It occurs every 90 - 120 minutes, ONLY when there is no food in the stomach or small intestines. The presence of food halts its action.
  • It takes 2 - 6 hours for food to leave the stomach, and the small intestines even longer.
  • The MMC is slowed down at night, so during the day is when its most effective.
  • SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) is linked to a lack of MMC activity, so IBS symptoms like bloating, irregular bowel movements and discomfort, could be improved with more MMC activity.
  • That rumbling in your stomach? It’s actually your MMC at work! NOT your cue to eat!


What this means is we really need to give our digestion long breaks to give this guy a chance to clean up down there, to prevent gas an over growth of unfriendly bacteria and to leave space for beneficial bacteria to flourish!


That may mean not immediately quenching your hunger. Please see this as an act of self love and not of punishment.


(always listen to your body especially if you are working through blood sugar issues, if you feel nausea, shaky or weak, then please eat!)


The endless positive effects of good digestion on our health are too much for the scope of this post, but suffice to say that WHATEVER your dealing with, from problematic hormones to anxiety to poor skin, a naturopath, who's mission is to get to the root cause, will always start with the gut.


So even if you think, as I did, that unconscious or habitual eating is not something you can relate to, I want to encourage you explore how mindfully you are eating.


Here a helpful little check list:



  • Stop. 
  • Take a breath
  • Is this really hunger?
  • Where in my body is the sensation?
  • Is food what my body really needs right now?
  • if yes, well then, EXCELLENT
  • Now sloooooow down
  • Sit down
  • See, Smell, Savour you're food
  • Give thanks or appreciation 
  • ENJOY! Really seek to find pleasure from your food.
  • CHEW!!!



I hope you found this post helpful, if you’re keen for some delicious healthy recipes to enjoy ever so mindfully, I’d love to see you over on my blog where my mission is to delight your taste buds with gluten free and mostly plant based nourishment.

See you there,

Ruth x




You can also find me here for more whole and healthful living inspiration, with the odd fur baby thrown in for good measure!






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