Why is it that food has become such a common source of unhappiness? People seem to always be on some journey of eating better/losing weight/eating less etc. Constantly criticizing their choices. More water, less fat, no carbs, no eating after 6pm, no eating before noon, more vegetables, less sugar – the list is endless. There could be one very easy way to bring all of this back to balance and that’s mindful eating. We’ve forgotten how to be present with our food. And the problem is not the food, the fat cells or our stomachs. The problem lies in the mind. It lies in our lack of awareness of the messages coming from our body. Mindful eating helps us learn to hear what our body is telling us about hunger and satisfaction. It helps us become aware of who in the body/heart/mind complex is hungry, and how and what is best to nourish it.
Multitasking and eating is almost a guarantee that we are not listening to our body’s needs and wants. In fact, most of us have become out of alignment with what feels good in our body. Losing touch with which foods give us energy, make us tired, make us bloated, cause anxiety, etc. We’ve all had the experience of going to the movies with a bag full of buttery popcorn and we’ve eaten ¾ of the bag before the end of the previews. What? How did that happen? When we become distracted, it’s more and more difficult to listen to our body’s signals about food. With your next meal or snack, try single-tasking and just eat. Without screens or books or YouTube videos about dancing cats. Enjoy the company you keep and the food you’re ingesting. Here are some more tips on practicing “informal” mindful eating:
1 – Take It Slow
You’ve probably heard that it takes at least 20 minutes for your body to tell your brain that it’s full. There are many hormones involved in the brain-body feeding cycle and if you’re rushing through your meal, in your car, on your way to work, then your body can’t catch up to let you know that you’ve had enough. If you slow down, your body will let you know when you’re satiated. How to slow down? Chew your food slowly, place your fork down between bites or sit down to eat.
2 – Know Your Hunger Signals
Are you actually hungry or are you bored? Knowing the difference between your emotional hunger and your physical hunger is a great step in becoming more mindful in your body. Is your stomach growling? Are you feeling lightheaded? Are you feeling low in energy? These are physical cues that you might need to eat. Emotional cues are usually only coming from above the shoulders. Next time you feel an urge to eat, bypass the mind and check in with your body first.
3 – Develop Healthy Eating Habits
Your body likes routine. So much so that it actually wires your brain for things that are predictable. These can be called environmental cues. It’s important to set up cues that are healthy. For example, sitting down at the table to eat. Rather than eating at random times in random places. If you think about it, we have all created positive and not so positive cues around eating and drinking. Why do you think you need a coffee every time you get in the car? Because you’ve created the habit. Perhaps you grab a coffee every morning on your way to work and your body has set up a cue. Now, every time you get in the car (not just in the morning), your brain signals (and wants) you to go get a coffee; whether you need it or not. Take some time to notice other cues that you might have created, and focus on making positive new habits and triggers.
4 – Eat Food Not “Treats”
Learn to eat foods that are nourishing and satisfying by taking the time to really taste your food. So often, we have taught ourselves stories around food. We find comfort in ice cream or we think kale is only for vegans. Studies show that when we slow down to eat healthy foods, we end up enjoying them much more than the story we tell ourselves about that food. As we practice eating a greater variety of healthy food, we are less apt to binge on our comfort foods, ultimately finding healthy foods both mentally and physically pleasurable.
5 – Consider Where Your Food Comes From
This is probably the most “spiritual” you can get around your dinner plate. But take a second to really consider the life cycle of what you are about to eat. With most of us living quick, urban lives, we have greatly become disconnected from our food and food source. When we pause to consider all of the people involved in the meal in front of us, from the loved ones (and yourself) who prepared it, to those who stocked the shelves, to those who planted and harvested the raw ingredients, to those who supported them, it is hard to not feel both grateful and interconnected. Take some time to consider everything that went into your meal – from those who gave their time to prepare it to those who have given a part of their lives to create its raw ingredients. Perhaps you can practice 5 minutes of silence at the beginning of every meal to give Thanks.
While formal mindfulness practices are always beneficial, the reality is that we live (and eat) in a busy world. But we can take some of the formal practice – slowing down, listening to our body, doing one thing at a time, making small rituals, practicing gratitude – and aim to weave these principles into our daily meals. Practicing a more informal way to mindful eating.
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