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  • Andrew Lewis

Mindful Eating

This article from Luke Coutinho appeared in the Sunday Times of India on September 1st. Other pages featured articles on how to 'reset, restore, and re-energise'. Katrina Onstad gave these tips amongst others: 'Connect, offer your time, do something for someone, don't make plans, wander, wonder, just be.'

Nona Walia commenting on this theme stated, 'the world is tired of the cult of busyness.'

The Times of India has a daily feature called 'The Speaking Tree' in which aspects of mindfulness and meditation are often explored in the wider context of how to lead a happy, and fulfilled life.

It is encouraging that some newspapers find space amidst the gloom and dissension to run such features.

Returning to the article by Luke Coutinho, the difference between 'mindful eating' and 'emotional eating' is made very clear, and the benefits of mindful eating are briefly but well outlined.

Take this: 'When we are under stress, we start to deplete the feel-good neurotransmitters in our body, like endorphin, serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin. Foods laden with sugar, salt, fat -- when eaten during stress make our body release the same chemicals making us feel good. People misinterpret this as 'comfort food'. The fact, however is that exercise, lovemaking, sleep, a hug, meditation releases the same chemicals too, but we often fail to adopt these healthier ways and choose negative behaviours instead.'

'Stress amplifies the reward centre of our brain- which is why we feel extremely good when we eat an ice cream on days we feel low. Our brain then saves this feeling like a memory and reminds us to reach out for something sugary every time we feel this way.

Stress cuts off the oxygen supply to our brain, lessening our ability to make wise decisions and choices towards food.

With stress comes lack of sleep, fatigue, grogginess making it easier for us to reach out for quick fixes like sugar, salt, caffeine, alcohol.

Chronic stress is also known to cause gut dysbiosis, meaning an imbalance in the good and bad microbes in our gut. More the bad microbes, more our body craves for sugar - as these bad bacteria need sugar as fuel to survive. So unexplained cravings could sometimes just mean bad bacteria overgrowth in your gut who are screaming for fuel.'

There is useful and interesting information here. How are we to use it ? Are we going to use 'mindful eating' as a stick to beat ourselves with? Is this heavily prescriptive? Should we abandon ice cream, along with all sugary, fatty, salty foods, not to mention caffeine and alcohol ? Isn't enjoying food and drink one of the great pleasures of life? Isn't it said that 'a little of what you fancy does you good'?

This brings us to the heart of mindful practice. It is no more, or less, than becoming aware of what is happening, while it is happening; gaining clear insight into what habits are being cultivated, what neural circuitry is developing and strengthening; understanding why certain things may be going in certain directions but seeing clearly that we are not without choice and control. Our mindful practice enables us to control our eating habits rather than be slaves to our cravings. We achieve a healthy balance rather than getting trapped somewhere between unfettered approach or avoidance.

Easier said than done ? Of course. Saying things doesn't require practice and patience; doing things often does!

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