Mindful Eating for Gut Health (a holistic approach)

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In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to overlook the simple act of eating, let alone mindful eating for gut health (a holistic approach).

We often find ourselves rushing through meals, eating on the go, or mindlessly snacking while distracted by screens.

This hurried and inattentive approach to eating can take a toll on our digestive health, leading to a host of issues like bloating, indigestion, and more serious gastrointestinal disorders.

Enter mindful eating: a practice that encourages us to slow down, savor our food, and reconnect with our body’s hunger and satiety cues.

When combined with a focus on gut health, mindful eating can transform our relationship with food and improve our overall well-being.

You can also check out The Gut Be Good Podcast and YouTube episodes by clicking here.

See the content list below for quick links to relevant sections within this article:

Understanding mindful eating
The gut-brain connection
Benefits of mindful eating for gut health
Strategies for mindful eating
Conclusion
Ready to embark on your gut health journey?
Final message
Disclosures & Disclaimers
Sources

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    Understanding Mindful Eating

    Mindful eating is derived from the broader concept of mindfulness, which originates from Buddhist teachings and has been popularized in the West by figures like Jon Kabat-Zinn.

    Mindfulness is about being fully present in the moment, without judgment.

    When applied to eating, it means paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside the body.

    Key principles of mindful eating include:

    1. Listening to Hunger and Satiety Signals: Paying attention to your body’s hunger cues and eating until you are satisfied, not stuffed.

    2. Engaging the Senses: Fully appreciating the flavours, textures, and aromas of your food.

    3. Avoiding Distractions: Eating without the interference of electronic devices or multitasking.

    4. Acknowledging Emotions: Recognizing emotional triggers for eating and addressing them in non-food ways.

    The Gut-Brain Connection

    To understand the impact of mindful eating on gut health, it’s essential to grasp the concept of the gut-brain axis. This bidirectional communication system between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain influences not only our digestion but also our mood, immune function, and overall health.

    The gut is often referred to as the “second brain” due to its extensive network of neurons and its ability to produce neurotransmitters like serotonin.

    Stress, anxiety, and poor eating habits can disrupt this delicate balance, leading to gastrointestinal problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and leaky gut syndrome.

    Mindful eating can help mitigate these issues by promoting a calm, relaxed state that facilitates proper digestion and nutrient absorption.

    If you’re looking to find out more about common digestive disorders in gut health, check out this article of mine which provides a detailed overview to coeliac disease, non coeliac gluten sensitivity, GERD, IBS and IBD – it’s really helpful.

    Benefits of Mindful Eating for Gut Health

    1. Improved Digestion

    Mindful eating encourages us to chew our food thoroughly, which is the first step in the digestive process. Chewing breaks down food into smaller particles, making it easier for digestive enzymes to do their work.

    This not only aids digestion but also allows us to savour the flavours and textures of our meals.

    2. Reduced Overeating

    By paying attention to hunger and satiety signals, mindful eating helps prevent overeating. When we eat quickly or while distracted, we tend to consume more calories than we need.

    This can lead to weight gain and put additional strain on the digestive system. Slowing down and eating mindfully allows us to recognize when we are full, reducing the likelihood of overeating.

    3. Enhanced Nutrient Absorption

    A relaxed state during meals promotes optimal digestion and nutrient absorption. Stress and hurried eating can impair digestion, leading to poor absorption of essential nutrients.

    By fostering a calm environment and focusing on our food, we can enhance our body’s ability to absorb vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients critical for gut health.

    4. Balanced Gut Microbiota

    The gut microbiota, a diverse community of microorganisms living in our intestines, plays a crucial role in our health. A balanced microbiota supports digestion, immune function, and even mental health.

    Mindful eating can promote a healthy gut microbiota by encouraging the consumption of a varied and balanced diet rich in fibre, prebiotics, and probiotics.

    See the content list below for quick links to relevant sections within this article:

    Understanding mindful eating
    The gut-brain connection
    Benefits of mindful eating for gut health
    Strategies for mindful eating
    Conclusion
    Ready to embark on your gut health journey?
    Final message
    Disclosures & Disclaimers
    Sources

    Strategies for Mindful Eating

    Incorporating mindful eating into your daily routine can seem challenging at first, but with practice, it can become a natural part of your life.

    Here are some strategies to help you get started:

    1. Set the scene for eating, and do nothing else

    Create a calm and inviting eating environment. This might mean setting the table, dimming the lights, or playing soft music. Remove distractions such as televisions, phones, and laptops as this will help you focus solely on your meal, and spending time with others too, to talk and pause naturally during the course of eating.

    2. Start with gratitude and show awareness for the food in front of you

    Before you begin eating, take a moment to express gratitude for your food. This can be a silent acknowledgment or a more formal practice, such as saying grace.

    Gratitude can enhance your appreciation for your meal and promote a positive mindset, but it also helps to engage your brain with your food and get digestive processes and functions started, as your body recognises it’s about to receive food.

    3. Engage your senses, think about the food in your mouth

    Take the time to appreciate all of the colours, smells, and textures of your food. You might think you pay attention to these things, but chances are you could be doing a better job than you are currently, as most people have habits of eating they aren’t even aware of until they start paying attention.

    Notice the aromas, the visual appeal, and the variety of ingredients. This sensory engagement can make the eating experience more enjoyable, satisfying and is great for digestion because your body is ready to receive the food.

    4. Chew thoroughly: digestion starts in the mouth

    Chew each bite slowly and thoroughly. This not only aids digestion but also allows you to fully experience the flavours and textures of your food. Did you know that foe optimal digestion you should aim to chew each mouthful of food between 20 and 30 times before swallowing?

    This might sound extreme, but its true.

    Your food should be a soft bolus before you swallow, not hard lumps or unchewed food as your latter digestive organs have a much greater job to do in digesting this food adequately if you eat this way.

    Next time you eat, take a moment when naturally about to swallow, to roughly note how many chews you gave that mouthful before you went to swallow – I guarantee it’ll be a number you can improve upon, and should aim to improve upon for better digestion.

    If you want to find out more about your digestive system as a whole by the way, you might enjoy this article of mine which covers the digestive system and its intricate workings in fuller and brighter detail.

    5. Pause between bites; breath; don’t rush to the next bite

    Put your fork down between bites and take a moment to breathe. This can help you eat more slowly and give your body time to register fullness. Savour each bite and enjoy the process of eating; after all, you’re not racing anyone!

    6. Listen to your body: by eating more slowly, you shouldn’t over-eat

    Pay attention to your body’s hunger and satiety cues. Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are satisfied. Avoid the temptation to “clean” your plate off if you are already full, no matter what others around you say – your body knows best.

    Remember that the feeling of being stuffed is not the normal feeling of being full. Being full means feeling satisfied and its amazing how many people continue to eat past this point, perhaps because something tastes particularly good, or you were told not to waste food growing up.

    No matter the reason, your body WILL tell you when it’s full, and if you get to the end of the meal feeling sick or stuffed or like you physically couldn’t eat another bite, you should make a point to slow down your eating next time and note when your feeling of “I’m hungry” actually disappears, as this is your queue to stop.

    7. Reflect on your eating habits – be honest with yourself

    Take some time to reflect on your eating habits and patterns. Are there certain emotions, habits, scenarios, situations or places that trigger mindless eating? By identifying these triggers, you can develop strategies to address them without turning to food.

    Take note of times and scenarios in your life when you might commonly reach for a snack or a type of food or drink which you know in your heart doesn’t really serve you in the best way.

    If there are habits, places or people which commonly unite you with foods that you don’t need, try changing your routine up and heading somewhere new, perhaps with someone new, and see how changing your routine or your paradigm can help you notice negative patterns of behaviour which may be leading you to less healthy eating habits as well.

    Conclusion

    Mindful eating for gut health is a holistic approach that goes beyond simply choosing the right foods, as you’ve no doubt found out yourself from reading all of the above information.

    Mindful eating involves being present, paying attention to your body’s needs, and addressing emotional and lifestyle factors that may be impacting your digestive health.

    By incorporating mindful eating practices like those mentioned above, focusing on a gut-friendly diet, managing stress, ensuring quality sleep, and addressing emotional well-being, you can more easily support your gut to be more healthy and improve your overall health and well-being as you do.

    If you embrace this journey with patience and curiosity, you’ll no doubt discover a deeper connection with your body as I have in recent years, and from it, a more nourishing relationship with food will grow and be reinforced for now and the future.

    Ready to embark on your gut health journey?

    Join my email list for exclusive insights, subscribe to the Gut Be Good Podcast, and follow The Gut Be Good YouTube channel for more in-depth discussions and helpful (but also, fun) videos!

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      Final message:

      Remember, empowering yourself with knowledge and seeking professional guidance are paramount in navigating the complexities of any diagnosis and ensuring the appropriate steps toward better health.


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      Gemma x

      DISCLAIMERS & DISCLOSURES

      This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link.
      Please see my full disclosure for further information
      DISCLOSURE
      & my full Disclaimer for further information – DISCLAIMER

      Any advice offered within this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not be used as a sole resource for understanding the medical conditions discussed within. Any changes made to your diet, lifestyle and general well-being should be discussed with your GP or similar healthcare professional who is aware of your unique medical history and not made according to advice provided within this article or anywhere else on this website.


      While the utmost care has been taken in devising the information residing on this website, it is your sole responsibility as the reader to utilise the information as you see fit and by reading the information present on this website you accept personal responsibility over any health outcomes related to you and your condition which occur as a direct or indirect result of using the information on this website in any way.

      Always Check Ingredients Labels for Allergen Information
      before consuming a product.

      This is important in case there are changes in
      manufacturing since the date of publication of this article.

      It’s also a good idea in general, especially if you have allergies rather than intolerances/sensitivities to certain ingredients to check ingredients labels before consuming a product.

      Use the content list below for quick links to relevant sections within this article:

      Understanding mindful eating
      The gut-brain connection
      Benefits of mindful eating for gut health
      Strategies for mindful eating
      Conclusion
      Ready to embark on your gut health journey?
      Final message
      Disclosures & Disclaimers
      Sources

      Sources

      British Dietetic Association, 2023. Mindful Eating. BDA: The Association of UK Dietitians. Available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/mindful-eating.html [Accessed 4 July 2024].

      Graham, D., 2018. 6 Ways to Practice Mindful Eating. Mindful. Available at: https://www.mindful.org/6-ways-practice-mindful-eating/ [Accessed 4 July 2024].

      Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 2020. Mindful Eating. The Nutrition Source. Available at: https://nutritionsource.hsph.harvard.edu/mindful-eating/ [Accessed 4 July 2024].

      Joanna McMillan, Gutfull: what to eat for a happy gut (2020)

      Joanna McMillan, Mindful: what to eat for a better brain (2022)

      Joanna McMillan, Heartfull: what to eat for a healthy, happy heart (2023)

      Nelson JB. Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat. Diabetes Spectr. 2017;30(3):171-174. doi:10.2337/ds17-0015

      Gemma Hartshorn

      Gemma is a mum to twins with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity and has been living a gut-health focused life for many years herself. She has 5 years adult nursing experience in the UK and achieved a distinction in her Diploma of Higher Education in Healthcare from Oxford Brookes University. She is currently completing a BSc in Health Science and has a keen interest and knowledge of all things gut health. Listen to her Gut Be Good podcast or join her on the Gut Be Good youtube channel for more insights, sharing and helpful information on all things gut health related alongside her website here. Contact Details: glutenfreeshopeasy@gmail.com Unit 80366, PO Box 6945, London, W1A 6US

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