“When practiced to its fullest, mindful eating turns a simple meal into a spiritual experience, giving us a deep appreciation of all that went into the meal’s creation as well a deep understanding of the relationship between the food on our table, our own health, and our planet’s health.” - Thich Nhat Hahn
It's time we start eating with intention and pay attention to our consumption.
Year in and year out, so many of us try, and try again, to lose weight through some random diet plan, a new exercise regimen, or some amazing new scheme. These plans are all about sacrifice and quick fixes, they focus on elimination. Over and over, there are lists of things you shouldn't do or need to avoid. Don't do this, don't do that, no, no, no....
I don't need to tell you, it's all wrong!!! How many more yo-yo diets are you going to subject yourself to before you get the message that it doesn't work? The intention is always good, but the plan is almost always wrong. Anything that limits your options is, more than likely, going to fail. If it works it backfires when you go back to reality.
I have so many clients who come to me to get healthy and in our sessions, they tell me how much they love to eat. Heck, we all love to eat. There is great joy in eating, in trying new food, in discovering new restaurants, in spending time with our family and friends over a great meal. We love to eat, some of us live to eat. Many of my friends make a living in the food industry. FOOD IS AWESOME!!! So why would we ever want to take it away? It's a futile practice.
I'm writing this blog with the intention of changing the focus from dieting to eating mindfully. Instead of focusing on the what not to do's, let's focus on the how to's. I build my practice around mindfulness and meditation, so it's no wonder I am a fan and promoter of mindful eating.
Mindful eating is the practice of focusing one's full attention on the act of eating. Paying attention to the smell, look, and flavors of food while being focused on the experience and not distracted by other things. It involves slowing down and staying present, in order to derive pleasure and satisfaction from every bite. Mindful eating can be a transformative habit that helps us avoid over consumption and rekindles the simple joy of being present with our food and the experience of consuming it.
I have studied the eating habits of many people over the years. I worked in the food industry for decades, so I have a great perspective on this thing called eating. Many people who love to eat are not truly loving the food, they are just loving the escape while eating. It's comforting and can be such a great way to overcome stress and anxiety, escape from reality, deal with emotions, or just take us away from whatever else is going on in our lives. We have gotten so caught up in our busy lives that our eating habits have become rushed. We are more centered on quantity over quality, and on convenience over enjoyment.
It's time to change our perspective on eating. If you've ever practiced meditation, you know that it allows you to get in touch with your feelings. Imagine using that process to get in touch with the full flavor and joy brought to you by your food. Mindful eating is about being present in the meal. It's about focusing our attention on the food. When you slow down and let the flavors develop on your palate, you'll know what it is truly like to enjoy eating.
Mindful Eating is allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through the selection and preparation of your food. It's also about respecting your own inner wisdom, about using all your senses to choose food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body. Mindful eating is about acknowledging your responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment, and becoming more aware of physical hunger and satisfaction. It's a process that will change your relationship to food.
It begins with slowing down, making the right choices. When we take the time to choose food that is going to serve our health we are making the mindful choice. Like anything we do mindfully, we bring ourselves present by focusing on the breath. Just take two or three deep breaths before you start to eat. You can do this to yourself and no one will probably even notice. Bring yourself fully to the meal.
Think about how hungry you are, get in touch with how you feel. Think about the look, the colors, the texture, and imagine how it will taste and feel in your mouth. You can even go a step further and think about where the food came from. Imagine or remember how it was prepared. Appreciate it, rather than just take it for granted. Mindfully, you can express gratitude for it, always remembering some living thing sacrificed for this meal. Someone (maybe even you) labored for you to have this meal, appreciate it! Mindfully show gratitude for what you are about to eat, it's what grace is all about.
When you eat, stay focused on small bites. While you are chewing, take time to allow the flavors to develop on your palate. We have been programmed to focus so much on the saltiness or sweetness of our food that we miss the nuanced flavors. Take the time to enjoy, to relax, and ask yourself, does it taste sweet, crunchy, creamy, salty? Identify the texture, temperature, flavor, consistency. These things are there waiting to be appreciated. There is so much to be discovered in your food if you take your time.
Put your fork down while you are chewing and let it rest a moment. This allows you to be present in the bite and prevents you from mindlessly reaching for the next one. Slowing down also allows your body time to communicate how full it is. When we eat fast, our body doesn't receive the signals fast enough to communicate how full we are. That's why after a big meal, we sometimes feel overly full, it sneaks up on us because we aren't present.
Change the Food Perspective
People who are overweight tend to think about food by numbers; calories, fat grams, sodium, carbs, etc. They tend to forget that there is more to food than numbers. Instead of taking the time to enjoy that delicious muffin, they think about how it fits in their diet plan or how much weight they will gain from that lasagna. Mindful eating restores the pleasure in food without sacrificing the goal.
Of course, this is where we start to make excuses. We start thinking that we don't always have time to eat this way. Heck, that may be true sometimes, but there is no way you have to rush through every meal. It would be awesome to say it never happens, but reality gets in the way of our best intentions. I challenge you to make an effort. Eat mindfully at more meals than not and you will see a difference. After time, it will become a normal practice in your life.
Purposefully focusing your attention on the present can help you embrace companionship, connectivity, contentment, and help make life more meaningful. When you practice this while eating you can make better connections with the food and most importantly with how your body feels.
Try making the effort to eat consciously, sitting down at a table, savoring the smells, textures, and flavors. Chewing thoughtfully and thoroughly, and you will feel satiated sooner, and consume less along the way. By thoroughly chewing your food it digests more easily and your body gets the time to fully absorb and make use of the nutrients you've provided.
The end goal is always to consume less, not through deprivation but through satisfaction. How great is that plan?
Give up on the restrictions and open your mind to being present with your food. You will find that less is more. You will be satisfied with much less and that is the key to a healthier life. Stop the crazy diets and just be present.
Your taste buds will thank you, your mind will thank you, your body will thank you!