It’s been said that true happiness can only be experienced in the present moment. The ideology of living in the ‘now’ and being mindful is a popular topic that’s been gaining a lot of attention in recent years, and for good reason. Mindfulness is defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations”. It stems from the Buddhist meditative principles of reflection and concentration and has many reported benefits including lowered stress levels, increased emotional regulation, superior cognitive functioning as well as higher levels of self-control.
The last benefit, higher levels of self-control, is particularly interesting as it relates to food consumption and our mealtime habits. How many times have you caught yourself eating dinner in front of the TV, or whilst on your phone or laptop, only to finish your meal, and be left feeling unsatisfied. This unfulfilled sensation arises because you weren’t focusing on the textures or flavours of the meal. What’s even more likely (and scary) is that you are probably blissfully unaware of how much you actually ate. More often than not, you may find that you’re still hungry, prompting you to go back for seconds, or indulging in an unhealthy treat. Research has shown that eating mindfully, in the absence of distractions, can lead to making healthier choices, better portion control, as well increased satisfaction.
Of course, we are still conscious when eating a meal on the go or while having a conversation with a loved one, however mindful eating is so much more than just being awake. Mindfulness allows us to appreciate food as a source of pleasure, as opposed to fuel. When we do so, it predicts healthier eating behavior, and vice versa. When we are mindful and aware of what we are putting into our bodies, we are more likely to make healthier choices and nourish ourselves with quality foods. This type of eating forms a habit. The benefits of this practice can be felt in other aspects of our lives as well. Individuals that are mindful have reported higher levels of self-esteem and self-awareness, improved concentration, adoption of a healthier lifestyle, among others.
So, how do we create a habit of being mindful? A habit is a regular tendency to do something, often unconsciously. We perform habits automatically and frequently. Research has shown that roughly 45% of all behaviours are performed out of habit. Repetitive behaviour creates a mental association amongst a particular situation and consequently, the action. Mindfulness, the act of being aware and in the present, is the antithesis of this automatic way of being, and can help to break bad habits that we have formed. Think of it this way; a situation leads to thoughts, which lead to feelings that elicit a behaviour. For example, say that you were to get into a fight with a good friend; this leads to negative thoughts about that individual, which automatically leads to feelings of anger and distress, which leads to a behaviour triggered by these emotions, such as the desire to consume ‘comfort food’. Our bodies have an uncanny ability to operate on autopilot, to limit the amount of cognitive effort that we exert. As I mentioned earlier, humans are mentally checked out for nearly half of the day. Coming back to our example, how might you react differently if you were being mindful and in the moment? Perhaps you would be focused on the cause behind the disagreement, and look to find a solution. You may take a moment to understand the situation, as opposed to reacting to it, and put equal weight on sharing your point of view, as well as hearing your friend out. In all likelihood, you would ensure that everything is addressed, and that the air is cleared so that you can both move forward, as opposed to giving into how you have reacted to these unpleasant situations in the past.
The art of practicing mindfulness is not easy, but it is definitely important. Though it may sound counter intuitive, getting into a routine or identifying opportunities where you can practice mindfulness is a good place to start. Snack times are a fantastic time to get into the habit of practicing mindfulness as they are easily identifiable and often take place at least once a day. This will lead to making healthier choices, and prompt you to put down that chocolate bar; the thoughtless choice. Train your brain to live in the moment and experience your thoughts, feelings, and emotions with greater clarity, because there really is no time like the present.
The Author: Daina Kenins
Daina is a lover of all things health & wellness related; a health food connoisseur, an avid marathon runner, a certified Vinyasa Yoga Teacher and a spin studio manager. She is ambassador for healthy eating and loves to create and share recipes on her instagram page @thepaleobean.