Anxiety is the enemy of eating (and this is why we love a good mindful meditation app!)

At Bloom Nutrition we love a bit of mindful meditation! Why? Because so many of our clients have anxiety, especially around meal times. Growing evidence supports mindful meditation as being helpful in managing a range of disorders, including depression, anxiety, and even chronic pain (Hofman et al, 2010; Rodrigues et al, 2017; Wielgosz et al, 2019).

As dietitians, this matters to us because stress and anxiety stimulate the sympathetic nervous system – better known as the “fight or flight” response. Unfortunately, this triggers the shutting down of the parasympathetic nervous system – which has the less well-known nickname of being the “rest and digest” response. So, people who are anxious when they sit down to eat are more likely to experience the negative aspects of a shut-down digestive tract, such as lack of appetite, indigestion, bloating, and even nausea.

This is why, when a person presents with gastrointestinal symptoms, we always aim to treat the whole person rather than just managing the symptoms themselves. There may be a range of things contributing to the gut symptoms, including anxiety, food sensitivities, and altered gut functioning from a variety of triggers. Often, this may involve us working alongside that person’s psychologist, who may be working more specifically on anxiety or stress management*.

One simple thing that people can do to help move out of “fight or flight” mode and into “rest and digest” mode is mindful mediation. That’s why love the apps! In particular, we love the expanding range of “micro” meditation options (also known as “bite-sized mindful moments”) that are so popular at the moment. These typically last between 1 – 10 minutes, so you can squeeze in a short session during the day, including at work, on the bus, at the park during your lunch hour, and so on. Clinical outcomes for mindful meditation typically look at longer time durations, however some research supports a positive impact of even 3-minute sessions, for example, in the context of avoiding burnout (Owens et al., 2020).

Anecdotally, clients have reported to us that spending even just a few minutes before meals doing mindful meditation or breathing exercise seems to help reduces indigestion. So, why not give it a try?

Here are some mindful meditation apps you might try.

Disclaimer! This list represents apps we’ve tried and liked, but is not exhaustive of all options available, and we do not have efficacy data available for these apps. Prices listed were accurate at the time we made the list but should be checked for updates.

Smiling Mind

Price: Free (iOS, Google Play)

The only Australian app we found, and it’s a good one! Daily mindfulness and meditation guides organised into structured programs for adults, youth, workplaces and classrooms. There’s a bit of a focus on youth topics, but adult options are also available. Topics covered include:

  • Sleep
  • Stress management
  • Digital detox
  • Mindful foundations
  • Attention and concentration
  • Relationships
  • Mindful eating

Most mediations are between 5-15 minutes, with some up to 45 minutes if you are looking for a little extra. Smiling mind also offers 2–5-minute bite sized mindful moments if you are in need of a quick pause in the day. There are so many options to listen to that it can actually be a bit hard to find what you’re after – but it’s a stand out in having so much content available for free.

Insight Timer

Price: Free + paid option $60/month (iOS, Google Play)

Insight timer boasts a library of 95 000 free guided meditations from different teachers with a range of topics including:

  • Stress
  • Body image/positivity
  • Relationships
  • Self-care/compassion
  • Healing
  • Sleep

Once you find some teachers you enjoy, you can follow them and listen to their new content as it’s uploaded. There is actually so much content in this app that it can be a little hard to find what you’re after, and I was a bit thrown by how unexpected the topic/voice/style of content might be at times as you explore the app. This is where it’s good to follow specific teachers you like. Of course, some people might really enjoy the lack of repetition and originality of content you get through this app.

Balance: Meditation & Sleep

Price: free for 1 year trial at time of writing, followed by $21.49/month (iOS, Google Play)

I really liked this app! It’s well designed and has a great range of calming exercises, including meditation, breathing techniques, visualisations, and other focus strategies, all with lovely calming visuals. A short questionnaire helps hone in on key topics of meditation, such as work stress, poor sleep, anxiety management, interpersonal stress, and others. Topics of meditation offered are chosen based upon questionnaire answers so are really relevant to your needs.

The app offers:

  • Personalised meditations based upon key stressors and symptoms you report.
  • Personalised meditations based upon key stressors and symptoms you report.
  • A choice of meditation durations, including small meditation “bites” of 1, 3 or 5 minutes.
  • Stress reduction techniques.
  • You can choose different voices to listen to during meditations.
  • Other exercises included, such as breathing to reduce anxiety.

Headspace: Meditation & Sleep

Price: Free version (limited options), or $19.99/month (iOS, Google Play). NB: this is a bit confusingly set up – there IS a free version with very limited meditation options, however it looks at first like you have no other option but to sign straight up to the paid version.

I personally love the Headspace app because of the colourful visuals and the funky English accent the narrator has. I’m a very visual person and find having something to look at helps me focus my mind. I think this app is very accessible for people who are a bit iffy about meditation but know they need to change their stress levels. Headspace offers:

  • Guided mediations,
  • Mindfulness moments and
  • Sleep sounds for kids and adults.
  • Individualised plans so you can start learning the essentials of meditation and build your skills from there.

3 Minute Mindfulness

Price: $7.49/month (iOS)

Although not free, this is one of the cheaper apps, is easy to navigate and one of my favourites. I liked how predictable it was – always a short, 3-minute duration no matter what you click on. Offers the option to send little reminders through the day to take a moment to relax, which some people really would benefit from (tip: time it so it’s at lunchtime and then you also get a reminder to stop work and take time to allow yourself to eat!).

  • 3-minute mindfulness meditations
  • A separate section just on breathing exercises – very helpful for those with a tendency towards anxiety! You can nominate how much time you want to spend on this too, from 1 minute to 60 minutes.
  • Guided “courses” offering a deeper dive into topics including anxiety, sleep and stress, along with others.

Calm

Price: $23.49/month (iOS, Google Play)

This one dominated the market for a while and it’s a really beautiful app, but it is a bit pricey for those just dipping their toe into the meditation scene. Calm provides a range of meditation practices and styles depending on your own personal needs and preferences. Topics include calming anxiety, gratitude practice, mindfulness at work, breathing exercises, nature and sleep sounds. For the many people out there who struggle to still their mind so they can fall asleep, there is a big range of sleep stories and meditations specifically designed to help with this. Calm also offers 7 or 21 day programs for to help get you started and new meditations are uploaded daily ranging from 3-25 minutes.


*Please note that all information provided on the Bloom Nutrition & Wellness website is for general reading only. Every person is different and it is always best to seek personalised advice from a qualified healthcare provider for any symptoms or healthcare issues you may have.

References:

Hofman, S.G., Sawyer, A.T., Witt, A.A., & Oh, D. The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2010 Apr;78(2):169-83.

Owens, R. A., Alfes, C., Evans, S., Wyka, K., & Fitzpatrick, J.J. An exploratory study of 3-minute mindfulness intervention on compassion fatigue in nurses. Holistic Nursing Practices. Sept-Oct 2020:274-281.

Rodrigues, M.F., Nardi, A.E., & Levitan, M. Mindfulness in mood and anxiety disorders: A review of the literature. Trends Psychiatry Psychother. Jul-Sept 2017; 39(3):207-215.

Wielgosz, J., Goldberg, S.B., Kral, T.R.A., Dunne, J.D., & Davidson, R.J. Mindfulness meditation and psychopathology. Ann Rev Clin Psychol. 2019 May 7: 15: 285-316.

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