The Benefits of Mindful Eating
Runners – indeed, athletes in general – sometimes struggle to maintain a healthy relationship with food. Which can present a very real challenge. After all, those meals fuel your workouts in a very real and measureable way. Developing a beneficial view of food and mindful eating habits, then, can directly benefit you in various aspects of your performance and overall health.
But how, exactly, is mindful eating beneficial? More importantly, what even is it?
The Basics Of Mindful Eating
There’s a pretty strong chance that, like most athletes, you’ve thrown back and entire bag of chips will watching TV without even realizing it. That is a prime example if mindless eating – the exact and logical opposite of mindful eating.
Based largely on the meditative practice of mindfulness, this dietary strategy simply asks you to slow down and careful consider all aspects of your food. This involves making very careful decisions about what you’re going to eat but also being nonjudgmentally aware of how that food affects you while your eating it. During the meal itself, mindful eating requires you to turn off the TV and other distractions so that you can fully experience your food.
To introduce you to the practice, start easy with a cup of tea or coffee. Enjoy your beverage in silence, with no other distractions. As you sip it, think carefully about what it took to get that drink all the way from the farm to your table. Consider all of the flavors, textures and aromas that the drink contains. Look at its color. If your mind starts to drift, don’t get frustrated. Just redirect your thinking back to the drink.
Granted, this may be a strange and challenging experience at first. If you struggle with it, try just dedicating the first 5 sips to this mindfulness and then drink the rest of your cup as you normally would.
Why Eat Mindfully?
But what’s the point? Why should you make the effort to build this mindful eating practice into your routine? The most often-cited reason to begin eating mindfully is based on the theory that it could help you lose weight. As mentioned, people have a tendency – particularly when they are stressed or distracted – to eat more than they realize. Mindful eating is design to counteract this habit.
And, according to the research, these claim does appear to hold true. Several studies have found that eating more slowly and using other mindful eating techniques can encourage weight loss. According to the findings, though, the benefits of mindful eating may run even deeper.
One study, for example, found that mindful eating improves the measurements of various markers of metabolism health, including blood pressure and cholesterol. Interestingly, mindful eating also made it easier for people to avoid sweets and generally make better decisions when it came to what foods they would indulge in.
Mindful eating has also been shown to lower blood sugar levels in type II diabetes as well as traditional interventions. Conventionally, type II diabetes requires training and education in a very specific dietary approach.
Healthy View of Healthy Food
This change – regarding an individual’s view of food – is of special interest to athletes. As mentioned at the outset, athletes are often at risk of developing unhealthy or unbalanced eating habits, which could eventually lead to the formation of more serious eating disorders. Often, this is rooted in a desire to perform their best and make the best decisions possible.
Remember, however, that a major part of the mindful eating strategy is to be nonjudgmental. As a result, this practice could help someone to the dysfunctional thinking and unjustified guilt that can lead to disordered eating. That’s the theory, at least.
Does it hold up? Yes, it seems so. Specifically, the research suggests that mindful eating can encouraged a more balanced view of food and even counteract symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Application For The Athlete
If mindful eating can benefit you in so many ways – when it comes to both your performance and your overall well-being – how can you put it into practice?
The simple exercise mentioned earlier is a good start. In reality, though, mindful eating needs to expand beyond just one meal or snack. It should impact all of the decisions that you make surrounding what you ingest. When planning your meals, think carefully about where that food comes from, if you really want it and how it will make you feel. Are you actually hungry or are you just bored? Is that food going to encourage your fitness progress or work against your training?
What’s interesting about mindful eating is the huge amount of unbiased flexibility that it allows. Your brain and body are incredibly good at sorting through feelings of hunger and deciding how certain foods effect you. Unfortunately, this communication takes time. By slowing down and taking a thoughtful approach to your diet, you learn to listen to your body and fuel it in the best way possible.