Master mindful eating and master your body
I know what we’ve been told, but is breakfast really the “most important” meal of the day?
Some isolated research says no, but a recent statement by the American Heart Association (AHA) may surprise you…
It seems all meals are important, as are snacks, as long as they are prepared and eaten in a certain way. And that’s because how we think about food, prepare food and eat food all makes an impact on our health, especially when it comes to cardiovascular health.
Your eating habits, not just the number of meals you eat a day, have a direct impact on your health and well-being.
The new view of meals and health
According to a new scientific statement by the American Heart Association (AHA), there are cardiovascular health implications associated with meal timing and frequency.
According to their analysis, the AHA found that many people’s eating patterns are varied. So from the start “eating patterns” are an essential piece of the wellness puzzle. We usually only think in terms of three categories of eating, i.e., breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert/snacks, but there is more to it than a meal name.
To begin, what happens when you skip meals? And what happens when you snack too much or eat the proverbial “Taco Bell 4th meal?” It seems this kind of erratic eating behavior is not good for your health. According to the AHA, this kind of eating behavior can “have various effects on cardiometabolic health markers, namely obesity, lipid profile, insulin resistance, and blood pressure.”
The Cardiometabolic health effects
In their statement, the AHA assessed the cardiometabolic health effects of specific eating patterns. These patterns included four specific areas: 1) skipping breakfast, 2) intermittent fasting, 3) meal frequency (number of daily eating occasions), and 4) timing of eating occasions.
There are two specific “takeaways” from this:
- “Irregular eating patterns appear less favorable for achieving a healthy cardiometabolic profile.”
- “Intentional eating with mindful attention to the timing and frequency of eating occasions could lead to healthier lifestyle and cardiometabolic risk factor management.”
Let’s look into the positive areas a bit more.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a concept for living. These days it is most associated with a method or practice of meditation, i.e., “mindful meditation.” Yet, the concept itself is related to one’s state of consciousness or their awareness of something at a given time. In terms of meditation, it might mean your level of consciousness as you are aware of your breathing, or mental thoughts as you sit in meditation.
Generally, mindfulness is a focused awareness in the moment and that awareness can be internal (your feelings, breathing, thoughts) or external (the breeze, people around you, physical sensations).
There are quite a few areas where mindfulness can be applied to meals, and the AHA does advocate that one develops “an intentional approach to eating.”
Applying mindfulness to meals
When it comes to meals, mindfulness can be applied in several ways…
- Being mindful to plan your meals and meal times.
This habit of foresight in planning allows you more options for being mindful of eating behaviors. You can establish when you will eat your three main meals, and also plan what they will be. In addition, you can plan your snacks and have them preselected. Such planning helps maintain an eating schedule and provides the best opportunity for eating well.
- Being mindful of calories consumed over the day.
This is important because eating more calories in one meal can cause insulin response, and over time lead to diabetes. Moreover, cramming too many calories into dinner or late night eating leads to decreased metabolic function, insulin response and weight gain. Not to mention reflux and GERD.
- Being mindful to consume all calories between specific hours.
By establishing a “food window” in your day, you can account for timing of meals, division of calories, and allow the body to digest and assimilate. It seems best to eat between the hours of 7am and 7pm, or another 12 hour slot. This gives your body 12 hours to “fast”, wherein the next day’s breakfast truly is a “break in the fast.”
- Being mindful to include more vegetables and fruit in whole form, and organic foods in your meals.
Food quality is more important than food quantity. It is more important to eat nutrient dense foods that are not soaked with chemicals than it is to consume unhealthy or so-called empty calories. These include conventional fruits and vegetables and grains and meats that are genetically modified or are lacking in nutrients.
- Being mindful when preparing and eating meals.
This is perhaps the most valuable advice because it increases enjoyment of the preparation of meals and also of each bite you take of them. Be in the moment when preparing food will help you select the best ingredients, take your time in packing or cooking and slow your mind. Often we eat habitually, and eat out of stress or without being conscious of how much we are consuming. Think of when you’re stressed or upset and devour a bag of chips or cookies or even eat three pieces of fruit. In these cases, because you are “unconscious” of what you are eating and how much, you will overeat.
Mindfully chewing each bite also slows the eating process which allows you to get to the “full feeling” before you have over eaten. It also helps you chew the food more completely so it is more easily digested. And, being mindful of flavor and texture, allows you to appreciate your food and enjoy it more.
Eating well, eating slowly and being mindful of how you eat and of meal times all lead to improved life. When we eat habitually, are not mindful of what or when we are eating, our eating habits become erratic and unhealthy. And like the American Heart Association has found, which echoes the Buddhist practice of mindful eating, “Intentional eating with mindful attention to the timing and frequency of eating occasions could lead to healthier lifestyle and cardiometabolic risk factor management.”