Most of our focus is on what we eat, but in society much less attention is paid to the question of how we eat it. Research suggests that changing our attitudes and practices around meals and mealtime rituals may be every bit as important as obsessing over what it is we actually put in our mouths. Mindful eating (also known as intuitive eating), a concept with its roots in Buddhist teachings, aims to reconnect us more deeply with the experience of eating and enjoying our food.
As a Diet Coach I've learned that mindful eating is based on the idea that there is no right or wrong way to eat, but rather varying degrees of consciousness about what we are eating and why. The goal of mindful eating is to base our meals on physical cues, such as our bodies’ hunger signals, not emotional ones like eating for comfort.
When I was in massage school our teacher was trying to teach us about mindfulness and had us all close our eyes with our hands open in front of us. In each of our hands she placed a dried apricot. She asked us to touch the item, I could sense the thickness, the firmness, and even the wrinkles on the apricot. We then were instructed to put in on our tongue it heightened our senses even further. She asked us to take a small bite, the flavor was absolutely amazing. I don’t think I ever enjoyed an apricot more. It was a very sensual experience actually. Now, an apricot is not a brownie or bag of doritos but I enjoyed it immensely. My point in all this is that you CAN enjoy healthy food even more than your favorite treats if only you were mindful during the process of eating it.
I am a firm believer that finding ways to slow down and eat intentionally are all a part of developing a truly healthy relationship with food.
Here are some of my favorite tips to introduce mindfulness:
Eating slowly doesn’t have to mean taking it to extremes. Still, it’s a good idea to remind yourself, and your family, that eating is not a race. Taking the time to savor and enjoy your food is one of the healthiest things you can do. You are more likely to notice when you are full, you’ll chew your food more and hence digest it more easily, and you’ll probably find yourself noticing flavors you might otherwise have missed. If you have young children, why not try making a game of it — who can chew their food the longest? Or you could introduce eating with chopsticks as a fun way to slow things down.
Savor the silence
Yes, eating in complete silence may be impossible for a family with children, but you might still encourage some quiet time and reflection. Again, try introducing the idea as a game — “let’s see if we can eat for two minutes without talking”, or suggesting that one meal a week be enjoyed in silence. If the family mealtime is too important an opportunity for conversation to pass up, then consider introducing a quiet meal or snack time into your day when you can enjoy it alone.
Silence the phone. Shut off the TV.
Our daily lives are full of distractions, and it’s not uncommon for families to eat with the TV blaring or one family member or other fiddling with their iPhone. Consider making family mealtime, which should, of course, be eaten together, an electronics-free zone. I’m not saying you should never eat pizza in front of the TV, but that too should be a conscious choice that marks the exception, not the norm.
Pay attention to flavor
The tanginess of a lemon, the spicyness of arugula, the crunch of a pizza crust — paying attention to the details of our food can be a great way to start eating mindfully. After all, when you eat on the go or wolf down your meals in five minutes, it can be hard to notice what you are even eating, let alone truly savor all the different sensations of eating it. If you are trying to introduce mindful eating to your family, consider talking more about the flavors and textures of food. Ask your kids what the avocado tastes like, or how the hummus feels. And be sure to share your own observations and opinions too. (Yes, this goes against the eating in silence piece, but you don’t have to do everything at once.)
Know your food
Mindfulness is really about rekindling a relationship with our food. From planting a veggie garden through baking bread to visiting a farmers market. You’ll want to connect with the story behind your food. Even when you have no idea where the food you are eating has come from, try asking yourself some questions about the possibilities: Who grew this? How? Where did it come from? How did it get here? Chances are, you’ll not only gain a deeper appreciation for your food, but you’ll find your shopping habits changing in the process too.
Give some thought to your food choices
Ask yourself, how will this food make me feel afterwards?
Common physical effects are: Overly full, uncomfortable, gassy, bloated, tired, fat, gives me reflux, makes my pants tighter, etc.
Common emotional effects are: Guilt, feeling hopeless, uncomfortable in your own skin, pessimistic, disgusted with self, loss of self-love
Common mental effects are: Loss of clarity, inability to concentrate, distracted
After several times of experiencing these adverse effects, you will eventually make the connection that you comfort foods make you feel uncomfortable, and that your go to junk foods make you feel like junk.
Being mindful is an evolution. Your relationship with food will morph in to something beautiful, and you will no longer find yourself eating mindlessly and not caring about what you put in to your mouth. I encourage you to start this journey today.