You Need To Take a Deep Breath For This One: How To Eat Mindfully.Nutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
When it comes to your health and wellness, sometimes you might forget that you need to be mindful of simple activities like breathing and eating.
Breathing keeps you alive by supplying your body with oxygen. Your cells then use oxygen to burn the nutrients released from all that good food you eat and for energy.
To put your need for oxygen in perspective, you can live for weeks without food, days without water but only a few minutes without oxygen. So it’s really important to identify ways to breathe properly so you can reap all the good benefits from optimal oxygen intake.
And according to a recent study, the way we breathe “directly affects the chemistry of our brains in a way that can enhance our attention and improve our brain health.”
This study suggests for the first time that breathing—“a key element of meditation and mindfulness practices—directly affects the levels of a natural chemical messenger in the brain called noradrenaline.”
“This chemical messenger [noradrenaline] is released when we are challenged, curious, exercised, focused or emotionally aroused, and, if produced at the right levels, helps the brain grow new connections, like a brain fertiliser,” states the report discussing the new research.
The study found that when people did tasks that required a lot of attention, the ones who exhibited better focus were the people who had greater synchronisation between their breathing patterns and their attention. Our attention appears to be influenced by our breath and there is some evidence that breath-control practices can stabilize attention and boost the health of your brain.
So what are some breath-control practices you can do?
“There are traditionally two types of breath-focused practices—those that emphasise focus on breathing (mindfulness), and those that require breathing to be controlled (deep breathing practices such as pranayama).”
You can either focus and concentrate on your breathing or work to control your breathing (or do both!). Both techniques are beneficial. For example, the report says people who tend to struggle with a lack of focus may benefit from mindfulness (concentrating on their breathing without necessarily worrying about control). To put it simply, it’s just about being mindful of your breath.
People who struggle with drowsiness while driving, a racing heart during an exam or panic attacks may want to work to control their breathing (this is where the deep breathing practices come in). Both of these practices often intertwine.
All it may take is 10 to 20 minutes a day of breath-control practices to reap the benefits. Think of it as part of your health and wellness regimen, like exercising and eating healthily.
You can work on breathing exercises first thing in the morning or right before you go to bed. You may enjoy walking to your favorite park and practicing there. The best part is you can pretty much work on your breath anywhere and anytime.
The benefits may really be invaluable. Breathing right may be something you cannot afford to NOT do.
For example, “[d]eep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure,” reports Harvard Health.
Dr. Parent suggests in his book that many of us struggle with our weight and nutrition not only because of what we eat but also HOW we think about what we eat. He recommends that we practice mindful eating.
Think about it…
How often do you 'scarf down' lunch at your desk because you are busy at work? Or grab a handful of candy out of the candy bowl at the office, because you need a kick?
You might turn to convenience instead of mindfulness when it comes to eating, like visiting the drive-through to grab something fast that you can eat while you sit in traffic.
You may eat without even thinking about it. It’s like you are on autopilot.
“We have forgotten to be present as we eat. We eat mindlessly,” according to Jan Chozen Bays M.D. in an article she wrote for Psychology Today.
Essentially one of the biggest benefits of mindful eating is it may help you control your eating habits.
“Mindful eating is about using mindfulness to reach a state of full attention to your experiences, cravings and physical cues when eating.”
It takes your brain up to 20 minutes to realize you are full. So if you rush through the eating process, you may overeat because you are not getting the “I’m full” signal. A lack of mindful eating may be one of the reasons why reportedly more than one third of U.S. adults are obese.
“It [mindful eating] has helped treat many conditions, including eating disorders, depression, anxiety and various food-related behaviors,” according to Healthline.
On top of this, slowing down when you eat may promote better digestion, which in turn may facilitate better nutrient absorption in the body.
Some ways to practice mindful eating?
A pillar of mindful eating is being aware of what you eat and understanding the importance of eating healthily. For example, you must understand that it is necessary to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables because they provide many nutrients that other foods are unable to provide.
- Think about what a particular type of food is doing for your body. For example, eating leafy green vegetables may help prevent cognitive decline and protect you from cancer. But eating ultra-processed foods, like donuts, won’t benefit you in any way other than temporarily pleasing your taste buds.
- Slow down. Chew thoroughly. Pay attention to the color, texture and taste of each food you are eating. Take sips of water or an antioxidant-rich tea in between bites. Breathe as you eat. When you eat fast, you tend to take shallow breaths. Doing these things will help you get the signal that you are full and may help prevent overeating.
- Just eat. Don’t text, don’t check email, don’t watch TV, don’t read. Just eat. Dedicating time to only eating will help you be more mindful of foods you are putting into your body. This does not mean you have to eat alone. Enjoy meals with friends, family and coworkers. For those of you who like to eat lunch at your desk at work, stop!
- Question your hunger. Many of us eat because we are stressed or dehydrated, not because we are actually hungry. If you have that little voice in your head telling you, “I shouldn’t really be hungry right now,” drink some water or take a walk around the block to relieve some stress (this is also a great time to practice breath-control!). If you do these things and still feel hungry, then you probably really do need to eat.
- Don’t be emotional. Sometimes we eat because we are sad, and sometimes we even eat because we are happy. Remember, the purpose of eating food is to give your body the nutrients that it needs. Many people also eat out of boredom or polish off an entire bag of potato chips while watching their favorite TV shows. They may do this because they are not being mindful! Exercise and enjoyable physical activities, like hiking and biking, are great deterrents from mindless eating. And don’t forget, we have to fuel our bodies the right way if we want to get the most out of our workouts and gain strength and endurance.
- Don’t give in to pressure. “Come on, it’s just one cupcake.” “You’re really going to make me drink alone?” How many times have you heard lines like these while out to dinner with friends or at a party? There’s nothing wrong with having the occasional cocktail or indulgent treat, but don’t have it unless you really want it. Don’t eat or drink something just because it’s there or your friend wants you to. This is not being mindful of your eating!
Being mindful of your breathing and eating are things you can start doing right now to better your health, focus and happiness. And the more you do it, the more natural it will be and the less you will likely have to think (or I guess I should say mindful) about it.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.