“Watch what you eat” is the old adage given to anyone wishing to be healthier. Most people interpret the phrase using what as the keyword, and thus understand it as being more sensitive about the nutritional value and portion size of meals.
But watch is just as important a word.
While the contents of your meals do impact your health, so does the process of how you consume it1.
In the hectic storm of classes, extracurricular and coursework amongst other things, students barely find time to sit down for a meal. Some even find it to be a bother. So they tend to compact eating with another activity. Like me — I’ve shared countless meals with my laptop while I browsed the internet or did my readings, although it has not been most appreciative of the coffee or crumbs on the keyboard.
By combining eating with another activity, the act of eating becomes secondary to the activity because there is no attention paid to the food2. This results in continual hunger and overeating because your brain has not registered the fact that you have eaten3. This can also lead to poor eating habits because you may not even be paying attention to what you’re eating4.
What I have described above is “mindless eating” – eating without intention or attention5.
A healthful and pleasurable approach to eradicating mindless eating is “mindful eating”. It is a strategy that has roots in the concept of mindfulness in Buddhist meditation6.
Mindful eating consists of paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking inside and outside the body7. This involves perceptual attendance to the physical characteristics of the food such as colour, smell, texture, flavour, temperature and even sound; as well as the somatic experiences of hunger and satiety. In conjunction, attention is paid to the mind to observe when it gets distracted during eating, when impulsivity arises in relation to food, and how the experience affects mood8.
Eating mindfully can contribute to the development of a balanced, wholesome relationship with food by facilitating a learning process through which an understanding of how food affects the mind and the body can be reached9.
So the next time you find yourself sharing a meal with your work, consider taking a break and making eating an experience rather than an evolutionary formality.