Most things are up for grabs but a few things in life aren’t negotiable. Breathing is one. We have to breathe. Eating is another. We have to eat. Breathing…that’s a topic for another article. Let’s focus now on eating.
When you’re eating, do you eat slowly and take the time to really enjoy and taste your meals? Or are you working at your desk, driving, watching television, talking on your phone, playing on the computer…. or doing some other kind of “multi-tasking” and paying little attention to what you’re eating and how? Yes? Well, you’re in good company. I’m sure there is some good soul out there that doesn’t ever eat mindlessly. But I haven’t met that person. Don’t really expect to either.
Mindless eating showed up in my life in all the ways you can think of. Eating while working, driving, walking, reading, watching tv, on the computer, talking on the phone. Eating out of, well really binging on, the bag of tortilla chips or whatever else that was handy when I was stressed or really hungry. I put little thought into the consequences to my body of a diet based almost exclusively on processed, preservative rich, microwaveable foods out of a box or bag. Even though I’m from a food-centric family, eating was literally an afterthought; only what I did to have enough energy to do anything else going on in my “busy” life. And I ate it as quickly as possible, not enjoying my food much less savoring it. Health problems (in the form of life-interfering digestive problems and allergies) finally convinced me I better change before a health crisis of no return developed. Mindful eating has been a revolutionary practice for me and my body feels healthier and happier for it.
If you’re looking to do your body justice, really savor your food, and benefit from all the nourishment it has to offer, here are a few tips to help you gradually integrate mindful eating practices into your life. Don’t try to integrate them all at the same time. That can be overwhelming. Start with one or two and apply them to perhaps three to five meals during the week and build from there:
- Chew your food thoroughly. When you slow down and enjoy your meal, you digest your food more efficiently. The digestive system begins in the mouth. The salivary glands contain enzymes that break the food down, an integral part of the process of chemical digestion and absorption. And the body can’t access any of the nutrients in some foods unless the fibers are broken up in the mouth. It’s a bit geeky but you can read more about how chewing facilitates digestion and absorbing nutrients here: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/digestive-system-how-it-works.
- What would it be like to eat without distractions? That’s right…no multi-tasking – No working, no television, no phone, no computer, no book. Playing relaxing, soothing music while you’re eating can be a great accompaniment to your meal though, particularly if you’re eating alone.
- Notice if you actually enjoy what you’re eating or not. Coaching clients and mindful eating workshop participants are always surprised to learn that a change in the taste of a food is one way the body signals it has had enough of what you’re eating. Actually, I think the real surprise is that there can be a change in taste. Slow down and eat your snacks or meals with curiosity. Notice if the taste of what you’re eating changes and how that affects how much you eat.
- Pay attention to your body’s “I’m full” signals. So many of us have been trained to not be wasteful and to eat everything that is on our plate we have lost connection to what our body is telling us. Listen to the natural wisdom of your body. Notice when you are full and then stop. I know. It’s hard to change such a heartfelt and ingrained habit. But think of it this way – you won’t be wasting food in the long run. Think of it as a transition to learning the correct portion size for you. And a transition to a healthier you.
These starting points for conscious, mindful eating can have a powerful impact on your eating patterns. It has certainly dramatically improved my relationship with food. If you take the time to enjoy and taste your food, chances are that you’ll also be more conscious of and happier with your food choices and eating habits in the future.