Mindful eating is a way of eating that is based on the philosophies of mindfulness. Essentially, mindfulness involves deliberate focus on your internal and external environments.
The aim is to increase your presence through conscious attention to all of your senses – sight, smell, taste, touch and sound – when you eat. It is common for many people, including athletes, to eat mindlessly; for example, eating out of boredom, overeating because they eat too quickly to register fullness, or eating on the run. These scenarios can affect body composition, efficient fueling for training, sleep, and your relationship with food, or feeling unsatisfied with what you eat, all of which may ultimately impact training and performance.
The use of mindful eating aims to increase awareness of your hunger and fullness signals, and to eat with purpose and intuition. Your body has an instinctive way of knowing just what it needs to maintain weight and sustain health. If you do not take time to listen to this, your body can get confused about what, when or why you need to eat and become driven by external cues to eat, based on your surroundings.
Eating without purpose and letting your food choices be guided by external cues like eating because others are eating, there is food in front of you or because it is a specific meal time of the day, can indicate that your body’s needs are not aligned with your food choices.
Increasing awareness of internal cues like hunger, energy and appetite and understanding what the body is trying to tell you helps to ascertain dietary energy requirements from day-to-day, as this can change significantly based on activity levels and training loads. Being grateful and mindful of the food you are eating and the role it plays in fuelling your overall health, athletic development and performance, rather than just taste or convenience, helps to drive the best choices to serve your body’s needs to be performing at your best.
“Mindful Eating” is useful for athletes because it can:
- Allow intake to be flexible with variations in training load from day-to-day and eating to meet training demands
- Assist in building skills in the selection of appropriate foods and quantities to support training loads
- Reduce overeating or over compensating intake for something you have missed
- Empower individual decision making and ownership over diet
- Reduce over-thinking, stress and self-criticism associated with diet or’ should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ eat dilemma
- Increase ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances and still make a good food choice e.g. being somewhere with limited food options when traveling
- Help with positive weight management and altering body composition
6 tips for athletes to achieve “Mindful Eating”:
- Eat meals without of distractions from televisions, computers or phones to focus on what you are eating
- Acknowledge your meal time by sitting down to eat and dedicate appropriate amounts of time for eating
- Avoid eating “on-the-go” where you can so that you can focus more attention to what you are eating
- Prior to eating, check-in with yourself and identify your internal cues to eat and what role that food will play in fueling your training or health. This is especially important if you find food is in front of you and if you are just eating it because it’s there.
- Understand that you do not need to finish everything on your plate for the sake of it – if you are full but there is food leftover, put it back in the fridge and save it for another time
- Remember, just like your sport, mindful eating takes practice to master- be persistent and patient, change will come