Mindful eating for mental health

Courtney Rupertus
Mindful eating for mental health

Typically, when we talk about food, diet, and digestion we are looking at it from a nutritional angle.

Are you getting the nutrients you need to be healthy? Are you maintaining a healthy weight? Are you watching your intake of junk food? These are just a couple questions we may be asking when it comes to how and what we are eating.

While nutrition and portion control are essential factors to physical health, did you know that how and what you eat are also important for your mental health? Most of us don’t, particularly the how you eat factor.

We’ve become extremely disconnected from the power of how we eat our meals, so much so that the healthy guidelines for eating a meal seem like an utterly foreign concept. The emotional state you are in when you actually consume food plays just as much an integral part of your ability to digest as the food itself does. Not only does the old adage of, “You are what you eat,” apply but also, “You are how you eat.”

So, how do you eat?

Cook your food

Surprising to most, the act of cooking is the first step to good digestion. Preparing a meal, any meal, for at least 20 to 60 minutes prior to eating sends important signals to your brain that get the digestive train rolling. This is a key factor in how our body absorbs essential nutrients that you need for good mental health.

Aside from that, when you simply grab food from the drive-through and throw it down the hatch, you end up with physical side effects like heartburn, gas, diarrhea, bloating, constipation, or nausea.

If you find yourself struggling with anxiety, depression, or issues with food, commit to slowly and mindfully preparing one healthy meal for yourself a day. Break the myth we tell ourselves that cooking for one person is boring or a waste of time, and really try to nourish yourself with the experience.

Take a moment before you eat

The second step to eating well - pause and take a deep breath before starting to eat. Your body must be in a parasympathetic state (relaxed) in order to digest your meal properly. Many of us eat all day long whilst in a sympathetic state (stressed), and our bodies have to work extra hard to digest while missing out on the maximum benefits our food has to offer.

This step is especially key if you did not prepare the meal yourself. Simply take a moment or two to visualize your enjoyment of the meal, breathe deeply, and express your gratitude for the food you are about to nourish yourself with.

Chew and be present

Now, on to the actual eating part. Here are some important guidelines for eating your meal:

Put your fork down between bites

Chew your food very thoroughly, until it is a liquid

Avoid talking with your mouth full

Be fully present with your meal - no phone, no TV, no hot topic debates

Stop eating when you are full, regardless of what is left on your plate

Relax

Now’s the time to sit back and relax after the meal you just ate, so your body can do the work!