How are mental health and nutrition related?
Diet and nutrition are important for your physical health, as well as for your mood and mental well-being. Lifestyle and diet affect stress levels and critical brain areas that regulate motivation, emotion, learning and memory. For example, your body needs sugar to function; however, eating too much sugar, or drinking too many sugar-sweetened beverages, may increase the risk of depression and cause memory and concentration problems.
People suffering from mental health issues may struggle with their dietary choices, further contributing to poor nutrition and leading to a negative cycle of physical and mental health issues. It’s important to include nutrients in a well-balanced and varied diet, along with a healthy lifestyle, to maintain normal brain function and positive well-being. Mindful eating can help.
What is mindful eating?
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the activity at hand, focusing on what we’re doing while being aware of any thoughts and feelings that come up in that moment. Similarly, mindful eating is an approach to food that focuses on sensation awareness and the experience of the food; it’s about paying attention to our food and being present in the moment without judgment. With mindful eating, we reach a state of full attention to our experiences, cravings and physical cues.
How to eat mindfully?
Mindful eating means using your five senses to pay close attention to a bite of food, observing your experience from moment to moment before swallowing. The focus is on various parts of the in-the-moment experience. For example, focusing on the look, sound, smell, touch and taste so that you’re fully aware of the food in the moment. This process doesn’t tell you what you should experience; it only suggests that you notice your own experience.
Here are three tips for eating mindfully:
(1) Before reaching for something, take a moment to notice what you’re feeling and what you might want to eat. Are you stressed, bored or angry, or are you actually hungry? If your desire isn’t about hunger, there may be other things you can do that would be more beneficial.
(2) Eat intentionally. Put away other distractions and pay attention to your food.
(3) Savour each bite using your senses. After each bite, check in with your body to see how you’re feeling. Have you had enough? Do you need more? Then move on to whatever you’ve chosen to do.
Mindful eating helps you appreciate food by patiently attending to each moment with full awareness. It also encourages you to trust your own decisions, slow down and make choices for your physical and mental well-being.