Mindful eating: eating for your own body

When I come across articles about the next new eating habit that will solve your every issue, my initial reaction is excited curiosity. This quickly diminishes, as the main gist of the article is normally extremely simplistic; ‘drink more water’ is suddenly presented as humanity’s saving grace. I am not discounting the importance of water but suggesting that one article will probably not solve all your problems. Henceforth, I am not aiming to solve all dietary problems in the next 5 minutes. Instead, let’s zoom out and talk about diet in a more philosophical way.

Firstly, we shall consider the power of the gut. The fact that it is regularly referred to as the ‘second brain’ is no coincidence. Most people are aware of the immense impact our gut has on our body and thus general wellbeing; many can testify to the direct consequence of an uncomfortable stomach has one’s general wellbeing. Perhaps it is no surprise that the gut is responsible for 70% of our immune system, as well as the fact that 95% of serotonin is produced in our stomach’s lining. Therefore, there is undoubtedly a need to provide your body with the correct nutrients. However, ‘the correct nutrients’ varies from body-to-body, not only do we diverge in the nutrients we need, but also our gut interacts with nutrients differently due to the unique combination of microbes in each person’s gut. The implication of this is substantial; the effect of the exact same zinc supplement, for example, will vary in every single person. This may be the issue with articles that argue that they have found the tool for universal gut health. Evidently there are similarities in what our guts require, but to proclaim an unanimous solution appears nonsensical. For instance, intermittent fasting may work perfectly for one person, whilst for others constant grazing could suit their digestion better. In fact, intermittent fasting can be damaging for a female menstrual cycle. Hence showing the importance of being well-informed, alongside tuning into your body’s reaction. What our body needs varies, thus it seems inappropriate to preach with absolutism what others need as well.

So how do you find what works for you, as an entirely unique individual? It is obvious that nourishing our gut correctly remains incredibly important, but instead of focussing on a specific diet, I suggest we focus on noticing our body. This is an ability that we all have. We do not need a nutritional course, instead all is required is to practise centring ourselves. There is a growing rhetoric over meditation and the benefits for our mental wellbeing. However, why shouldn’t we extend this mindfulness into the physical, specifically, the intention we bring to our food? This seems obvious when we consider the fact that food is an integral part to everyday life, so surely we should try and eat mindfully. Also, the technical link between our brain and gut (the gut-brain axis) demonstrates the intricate nature of our eating and emotional wellbeing. There is a reason that emotions, such as excitement or anxiety, create the physical sensation of butterflies in our gut. Considering this close connection, it seems reasonable to suggest that the intention and attention we bring to eating will affect the way our body reacts to the meal we are physically consuming. For instance, stress directly effects the speed at which our gut functions. Therefore, further exemplifying the impact of different diets, foods, and nutrients on each person; everyone brings a unique set of physical microbiome and mental attitudes to the same meal. Thence, it seems that no diet can reasonable be described as universal.

However, this article is not intended to be disheartening, but empowering as we realise that we all have innate sovereignty over our bodies. As previously mentioned, I would suggest the most beneficial way of finding what works is simply to ask your body. Take away the backstory that has been preached to us by product marketing, isolate your meal to the physical substance and truthfully consider the way different foods make your body feel. In order to recognise this impact, it is important that we bring the right attention to our food. I would recommend grounding yourself, perhaps through meditation, and then notice, even journal, the effects various foods have (Innate mood- a video journalling app- is a great way to give recognition to our body as we eat). Our eating habits and the nutrients our body requires will fluctuate, but if we are eating with awareness, it is much easier to alter our diet according to these changed requirements. Perhaps even before the effects of these deficiencies can be seen in bodily symptoms. The most important thing to remind ourselves is that we are the only person living in our body. Therefore, surely it is necessary to tune into the narrative our body is telling us, rather than relying on external information? Our body belongs to us and the fuel we provide is undoubtedly essential, yet it seems that the way we eat is just as important as what we eat.