Most mornings I walk the dog for an hour, or more if I have the time. Some days we walk with a friend and her pooch, which is great and filled with chat (unless we are on a very steep bit when we just huff) and others, like today, it’s just me and Noddy. He’s not much of a conversationalist, so when it’s only the two of us, I frequently find myself indulging in a spot of mindfulness. It might be the scents of the woodland in which I usually walk; the sound of birdsong or the sensation of my muscles flexing as I climb a hill. Or, as happened this morning, suddenly having my attention arrested by something beautiful.
As I marched along a rarely traversed stretch of river bank I suddenly became aware of the sunlight glinting off the water and stopped to gaze. I felt slightly awed by how beautiful it was and how happy it made me and how very lucky I felt to live in such an amazing place and have such a joyful (albeit slightly weird looking after his summer buzz cut yesterday) companion. After a short period of quiet, calm contemplation we set off once more after taking a few photos and I spent the rest of my walk letting my brain wander around the subject of mindfulness.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines mindfulness as “a technique in which one focuses one’s full attention only on the present, experiencing thoughts, feelings and sensations but not judging them.” Psychologists would probably add that it is about noticing the sights, smells, sounds and tastes that you experience as a way to enjoy the world more, in the here and now, and to spend less time dwelling on past failures or anticipating future stresses.
Mindfulness has been prescribed by the NHS for depression, anxiety and chronic pain since 2004. There is a growing body of research which suggests that it reduces stress; improves self-awareness and attention span; regulates emotions and improves cognitive function. Furthermore, in the context of eating, the American Psychological Association found that, of those psychologists surveyed, 70% considered mindfulness to be an excellent or good strategy for weight loss. And so I am sharing with you four mindful eating tips that we have both found useful during our periods of shedding the pounds and still use as part of our weight maintenance strategy.
- Stop eating on auto pilot
Bring all your senses to the table. Breathe in the aroma of your meal and enjoy the sensation of your mouth watering as you feast your eyes upon what your meal. Once you begin to eat, experience the texture and flavour of each bite from start to finish: truly taste your food.
- Ring the changes
Where certain meals, most notably breakfast, have become routinized liven it up a little and try something new. Try browsing in the cereal or bread shelves as you would a library and grab whatever tickles your fancy. Check the labels to make sure the sugar content is 10% or lower, and the fibre content is high, weigh out a portion and enjoy.
- Be aware of your hunger
Before you dine, take a moment to assess your level of hunger and be aware of how it changes as you eat and try to notice when you feel satisfied (neither stuffed nor still hungry) then stop.
- When you eat, just eat
Try not to multi-task while you munch. Switch off the TV and impose a no phones at the table rule: talking is fine, browsing is not.