Mindful Eating, Satisfied versus Full

How often have you eaten food in your hand or on a plate and before you’ve blinked it’s gone!

I bet you didn’t even notice that you did that!

Mindless eating and overeating have become the norm. We can’t help it – it’s right in front of us, in abundance, easily accessible along with confusing messaging about nutrition. Not to mention, the multi billion-dollar diet culture and food industry manipulating food ingredients (sugar, fat, salt) and thus leading to emotional attachments to food because of trauma, fear, lack of confidence, and boredom. The diet culture preys on our negative body image adding to the eating disorders crisis.

Food responds to our need for comforting feelings, avoiding emotions or releasing stress. It can become unbearable or get out of control which is often deeply rooted in habits and childhood behaviours.

As a result, we don’t even know what fullness feels like or recognize satisfaction.

What has happened that we‘ve become so disconnected from our body signals to not recognize fullness or satisfaction?

How many of you grew up with the household mantras “You better eat all the food on your plate” or “many people are starving in the world”, or “we had nothing growing up.” or” I have to clean my plate because I don’t want to be wasteful, or I paid good money for it.”

These thoughts are habits that you learned but aren’t necessarily true!

So, what does it mean to feel full?

Our internal clock tells us when we’re hungry and when to feed it which occurs at the breakfast, lunch, and dinner times plus snacks.  Moreover, these eating habits have conditioned the stomach to expect food at those times. The stomach gurgles and signals hunger that its time to eat. As a result, we never question to go longer without eating since food is so available to us.

When people don’t eat breakfast, they are not hungry in the morning or if you are in a different time zone you adapt to that time schedule.

Try it and find out the times when your stomach is hungry without looking at the clock?

Biologically, the stomach does not taste food or care about flavour. The stomach concerns itself with volume thinking how far it can stretch to accommodate being full before it signals discomfort or pain.

The stomach’s function is to break down the foods we eat. In my blog post from two weeks ago, How many tons of food will pass through your body in a lifetime?, I wrote about the transit time of the different food groups and how the digestive system is the most overworked system in the body.

It takes twenty minutes for the biological feedback loop to be completed and register fullness.

So, you have the signals of knowing fullness, but what about satisfied? How can you assess being satisfied?

Scientists believe that there is an “appestat”, a hunger thermostat in the region of the hypothalamus of the brain which is believed to control a person’s appetite for food.

A normal appestat responds to four sources

  1. A physical sensation of fullness sends a message that travels from the stretched stomach via the vagus nerve to the satiety centre in the hypothalamus in the brain.
  2. Nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream , including glucose, fat and amino acids from broken down protein,
  3. Hormones are released from the small intestine and pancreas that food is absorbed  (chokecstoknin, insulin and glucagon) part of  the digestive process.
  4. Fat cells release leptin and other chemicals that help turn off the hunger signal.

In an unregulated “appestat, the nutrient absorption does not happen breaking the cycle of hormones being releasing from the pancreas and small intestine, the communication line between the vagus nerve and brain are blocked and the hunger chemical leptin does not turn off.

This is where mindful eating comes in….

Mindful eating is a solution to so many physical and mental health problems. The equivalent to breathing, eliminating, or sleeping.

Observe the signals between the mind and body.

Mindful eating benefits improving digestion, supporting brain function, feeling good from stimulating the senses and deep physical appreciation, giving us energy and strength.

Recognizing body hunger is important to feel. Knowing your hunger signals and awareness of hunger in the whole body not just from the stomach

Assessing hunger with the whole body means the eyes, mouth, and stomach. What do I mean, ask the whole body if it’s hungry? It could be thirst, needing a glass of water or moving your body to stimulate circulation for muscles contracting or hunger too!

Chewing food breaks down food into smaller particles absorption of nutrients are processed sooner in the stomach and fullness is experienced naturally. When food exits the stomach and enters the small intestine the “appestat” hormones signal the brain and body that we’ve had enough. You’re satisfied and time to stop eating.

Biologically, the body know what to do! Our bodies are designed for eating slowly.

 The Japanese eat to 80% fullness called Hari Hachi Bo.  Slow eating means:

  • Pausing before, during and after eating.
  • Chewing your food well
  • Drinking slowly
  • Putting down the fork or spoon between bites
  • Eat the right amount

The Buddhist monk Ajahn Chah says,

“When you think after another five mouthfuls, you’ll be full, then stop and drink some water and you will have eaten just the right amount. If you sit and walk afterward, you won’t feel heavy but that’s not the way we usually do it. When we feel full we take another five mouthfuls that’s what the mind tells us. It doesn’t know to teach itself. Keep watching your mind…”

Be aware of the right amount. Connect to your body signals and you will find the right amount to eat. It’s a practice which we can do three to four times a day. Cultures have been doing it for centuries before us, we don’t live in hunger.

Tap into your centre and slow down enjoying the taste, aromas and variety of foods we are so fortunate to have available to us.

My best in health,

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