food for thought
robina-weermeijer-3KGF9R_0oHs-unsplash.j

 Photograph courtesty Robina Weermeijer

Unless you’ve been living on a desert island for the last few years, you will have come across the concept of mindfulness. Once seen as the reserve of tie-dye crowd, mindfulness, along with meditation, have become very mainstream. But what exactly is mindfulness and why should you be applying it to your food?

 

The fact is that we all know we should be eating more fruit and vegetables and less sugar and processed foods in order to live a healthy and happy life, but despite knowing these facts, the majority of the UK population is still suffering with poor health and weight-gain.

A recent report Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, England (2020) found the majority of adults in England were overweight or obese. This figure stood at 67% for men and 60% for women. This number actually increases to 82% for men aged between the ages of 55 and 64.

 

So why is it that despite more information about healthy eating being available than ever before, many of us are still eating the wrong foods and putting on weight? Is it possible that the answer lies in ‘how’ we eat as well as ‘what’ we eat? Could it be that it’s not just the abundance of tempting, highly calorific food that surrounds us, but our attitude to our food and our state of our mind when we eat it that are all contributing to our ever-expanding waistlines?

Mind affecting

Let’s face it, the visible signs of a bad diet are hard to ignore, but what many of us don’t consider are the ill-effects taking place on the inside such as increasing levels of visceral fat, (that’s the fat surrounding your organs), high blood-sugar levels and clogged-up arteries. Aside from a slimmer and healthier body, there is another benefit to healthy eating that many of us (ironically!) don’t even think about… and that’s our brain health. It turns out that what we eat has an effect not just on our body but on our mind too. The type of foods we choose to pile onto our plate every day has a massive impact on the structure and health of our brains.

 

A fifth of our calories

The brain takes up a whopping 20% of our daily calories. So it’s vital to keep it well- nourished with quality food. It’s possible that the sluggish, brain-fog you sometimes wake up with, could be a result of the take-away you ate last night. If we consume fast-food and overly processed food on a regular basis, we could be doing our brains, as well as our bodies, a huge disservice.

photo-1519708227418-c8fd9a32b7a2.jpg

Salmon bought at Lidl & Aldi is affordable and can be frozen and is so nutrional.

When we think about eating food for energy, we’re usually thinking about physical activity. Having enough energy to go for a run or a bike ride, having the energy to keep going through the mid -afternoon slump or even the ability not to fall asleep on the sofa as soon as we switch on the TV in the evening. But our brain also requires good nutrition to maintain levels of concentration through the day. What you eat helps you to feel mentally sharper and more focussed.

 

Good Bacteria

Putting healthier food on your plate could also influence your mood. Research is showing that you can literally eat yourself happy. The link between good gut-health and mood is now well established. Having a healthy and diverse population of good bacteria in the gut leads to better production of hormones such as serotonin which has a direct impact on your mood.

Habitual behaviourIf you ever feel as though your eating is out of control, or that you sometimes eat ‘behind your own back’, then ‘mindful eating’ could be for you. So, what is mindfulness exactly? And how can it help you to lose weight and be healthy? In many ways, mindfulness is the antidote to the type of habitual behaviour that many of us practise in our daily lives. And to be fair, habits are not always bad; they help us to function in a busy world. The ability to habitually get dressed in the morning without having to leave post-notes everywhere saves us from the embarrassment of accidently leaving the house naked some mornings. Our habits are basically the things that we do on autopilot. From cleaning our teeth to driving to the office, our habits are those things that we do without actually having to think about them too much. The problem only arises when we develop habitual behaviour that’s unhealthy. If you often 

photo-1556386734-4227a180d19e.jpg

find yourself mindlessly scoffing a packet of digestives in the middle of the afternoon or reaching for the crisps in the evening, you’ll understand the force of habitual behaviour around food. Sometimes we eat things that we know are unhealthy just because – well, it’s Friday or it’s 3pm . . . . . . . . or because the football’s on?

 

Extremely Powerful Instrument

The mind is an extremely powerful instrument, but one which, when left untrained can easily lead us into self-sabotaging behaviour. You may wonder why this is? After all, wouldn’t it make more sense for our own mind to guide us into behaviours which are in our own best interests? The answer is, of course, yes, but actually, our mind believes it is doing exactly that.

For thousands of years, food was often in short supply for us humans. In order for us to survive, we needed to eat as many calories as we could get our grubby little hands on. The more calories we could consume, and the more fat we could store, the more chance we had of surviving the lean times to pass our genes on to the next generation. The sheer force of this impulse was demonstrated in the early part of this year with the panic-buying in our supermarkets just before the lockdown. The sight of empty supermarket shelves caused a visceral sense of anxiety in shoppers, leading many people to feel compelled to stockpile tinned and dried foods. Even the slightest risk of going hungry is quite literally, unbearable for most us. So, for many people, this biological impulse to store food, either in the body or in the fridge, combined with our unhealthy habit formation around food, frequently leads to over-consumption and weight-gain. Mindful eating techniques can help us to overcome both of these elements by training us to put conscious thought into everything we buy and eat. Mindfulness is basically about giving our full attention to everything we are doing; at the moment we are doing it. It’s an increasingly difficult skill to master in a world filled with distractions such as smart phone notifications and a steady stream of text and email alerts. Mindful eating is all about being fully present when we are eating and paying our full attention to it. If you’d like to introduce mindful eating into your routine, try this next time you eat a meal:

 

  • Pay attention to your current emotional state at the time of eating

  • Scan your body before you eat and release any tension you may be holding

  • Notice the taste, texture and smell of your food

  • Try to eat each type of food as though you are eating it for the first time

  • Try to eat each type of food as though you are eating it for the first time

  • Eat slowly. Put your knife and fork down two or three times during the meal

 

Practising these mindful techniques at every meal will help you to gain more control over your eating. In recent scientific studies, mindfulness has been shown to strengthen emotional control and weaken more impulse driven behaviour. This subsequently leads to weight-loss by reducing food cravings and emotional eating. So, although it’s important to eat the right foods and exercise regularly, it’s also important to focus on how you eat – bringing mindfulness to the table could help you to shed some pounds and maintain a healthy weight.

 

If you would like help with weight-loss, emotional-eating or habit-change coaching, visit sambentall.com or email sam@sambentall.com

Sam Bentall's brain food!