Mindful eating health

Happy New Year!  I hope 2017 is starting off well for you and your family.   January is always a good time to think about the year ahead, and what changes you would like to implement that will make the new year even better than the one before.  As an ostomate, the manner in which you eat your food may be a good area to examine, as it is can have a significant impact on how well and how extensively you absorb and utilise the nutrients in the foods being consumed.  This in turn can have a significant impact on your health and the level of ease and comfort you enjoy with your stoma.

The topic of eating style is a common one during my nutritional consultations with ostomates, as it has a significant bearing on the health and wellbeing of the individual.  If you have been reading the articles published in the Ostomy Australia Journal over the years or have attended a nutritional presentation that I have given, you will know that my mantra to ostomates is to ALWAYS CHEW FOOD REALLY WELL (I am using capital letters here to emphasise the importance of this statement and how strongly I feel about it!)   The reason I focus on this so frequently and emphatically with ostomates is mainly to reduce the likelihood of a blockage.  However the benefits of chewing food for ostomates can extend far beyond this.

There’s no denying that compared to times gone by, life is much more fast-paced in today’s society.  Everyone rushes here and there whilst juggling many things at once with minimal rest and relaxation.  There is very little time to stop and smell the roses!  As part of this fast-paced lifestyle, meals are often quick, rushed affairs or food is grabbed whilst on the run.    In the city I often see people walking and eating at the same time, not even allowing themselves the luxury of sitting down to consume their food.

Unfortunately this way of living is not good for health or for digestion, and is especially detrimental to ostomates.  Many ostomates experience dietary restriction or reduced food intake, and so it is important to maximise absorption of the nutrients in foods that are able to be consumed for greatest benefit. Digestion starts well before food reaches the stomach, and there are many lifestyle strategies that can support and even enhance the digestive process, which will enhance nutrient absorption and overall health.  This includes mindful eating.

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is the process of slowing down when eating and chewing food really well whilst being focused and attentive to the food being consumed.  It has many benefits and advantages for the human body in general and ostomates in particular.   Mindful eating starts before any food is consumed.  It starts with food selection and preparation.  It starts by engaging all the senses in the process of chopping, cooking and serving food.   It includes setting a nice table for dinner, so food can be enjoyed in a pleasant environment.  Mindful eating involves turning off the TV, mobile phone and any plug-in devices and removing all distractions from the enjoyment of eating.  It also involves being aware of your emotions, and not eating when you are stressed, angry, distracted or worried.  Mindful eating brings awareness into the present moment and focusses attention on the food on the plate, and it encourages appreciation of the food about to be consumed.

Once the meal is commenced, mindful eating is deliberately paying attention to the food you are eating.  It brings focus to the food in your mouth so that you taste it more fully, enjoy it more thoroughly and benefit from its ingestion for a longer period.  Mindful eating is putting down your knife and fork for a minute during the meal, taking time to chew each mouthful and experience the tastes and sensations that are evoked.  It engages all the senses so the meal can be enjoyed unconditionally.  Mindful eating includes breathing and relaxing during the meal so that digestion is able to occur more completely.  Mindful eating brings extra seasoning to a meal that is not available in a bottle or a jar!

How do you eat mindfully?

Mindful eating is more about the manner in which you eat rather than the food you are eating.  It is about removing distractions and focusing more fully on the single task of consuming food.   Eating slowly and mindfully brings you more in touch with the process, so you are more in tune with what your body is experiencing and desiring.

My top tips for mindful eating are:

  • Select food that is fresh, nourishing, appealing and appropriate for your stoma.
  • Prepare the food attentively and lovingly
  • Set the dinner table with nice cutlery and crockery, maybe even consider lighting some candles
  • Turn off any devices that will create distraction during the meal
  • Play some pleasant background music that will enhance the enjoyment of the meal
  • Once food is on the table, take a minute to pause and reflect on the beauty and abundance in front of you and give thanks if you feel it is appropriate
  • Look at the colours and smell the aromas of the food on your plate
  • Eat slowly and chew every mouthful fully, enjoying the tastes and sensations in your mouth
  • Put down your knife and fork and pause every now and then so that you can breathe and relax during the meal
  • Only eat as much as you desire, and stop eating when you feel full.

It takes time for the brain to catch up with the body and register the fact that you have eaten, so mindful eating can have benefits beyond just a more relaxed meal environment.

Mindful eating crockery

What are the benefits of mindful eating?

In the case of ileostomates and colostomates, mindful eating can certainly reduce the likelihood or risk of a blockage, but all ostomates including urostomates can benefit from mindful eating.  Many ostomates experience compromised digestive function due to the surgical process, which reduces nutrient absorption.  Mindful eating enables the digestive ‘juices’ to flow more freely before and during a meal, which facilitates more complete digestion of individual nutrients in food.  This can help to support and enhance digestion so that some of that function is regained.  This can lead to greater health and therefore benefit from the food being consumed.

Enjoyment of food is also increased, as you have a direct experience of eating a meal that lingers in your mind and body and increases your feelings of appreciation and satisfaction. This can help with achieving or maintaining appropriate weight levels.   If lack of appetite and therefore weight since stomal surgery are a concern, mindful eating can stimulate the senses which in turn can stimulate appetite.  Visually focussing on food whilst preparing and eating it may encourage saliva to flow in the mouth, which may increase hunger signals and appetite.

If excess weight, on the other hand, is an issue that is causing problems with the stoma, then mindful eating can help by reducing the amount of food being consumed. Drenching the senses with the sight, smell, aroma and taste of food and taking more time with food consumption registers more completely in the brain that food is being consumed, which satisfies the body more fully.  Many people who wish to reduce their weight are often hesitant to engage more completely with food as they feel it will increase their total food consumption.  However, the opposite tends to be true.  Eating mindfully results in greater enjoyment and satisfaction from a smaller quantity of food so that, over time, a more appropriate amount of food for the body’s needs and type is consumed.

Mindful eating is more about how you eat than what you eat.  It is about savouring food so that your mind and body can benefit.  So take time with your meals.  Set up an environment in which there is no rush.   Engage your senses and enjoy the luxury of tasting your food fully and completely.  International Mindful Eating Day will be celebrated on January 26th, 2017.  Consider taking part.   Your body and your stoma may benefit in ways you did not expect.  More information can be found at The Centre for Mindful Eating.  If you would like professional assistance with developing the habit of mindful eating to benefit your overall health, please contact me.

Wishing you good health and happy days,


Article by Margaret Allan

Margaret Allan is a qualified Nutritionist who advises Ostomates and the general public on diet and health-related matters. Nutrition for Ostomates provides a range of consulting options - find out more on our Services Page.