“Slow down - You move too fast… you gotta make the (moment) last….” – Simon and Garfunkel
If one of your goals in the New Year is to lose weight, improve your health, or make better food choices, then Mindful Eating is for you! Rather than the punitive mindset of achieving these goals, mindful eating encourages you to enjoy (in joy) your food even more by savoring it! Many of our clients have these goals and yet find it daunting to make changes in lifestyles and habits. The good news is that you don’t have to overhaul everything to make progress. With mindfulness, you learn to become more present and conscious in daily living, and that includes food and eating.
We consider ourselves foodies and the majority of our friends are foodies. A lot of our culture is centered around food and eating. We even have an entire television channel dedicated to food. When celebrating important events or even just a meeting with a friend, people tend to include food. Food is the source of life. It’s really profound. When we “break bread” together, we are sharing the consumption of life force energy. When we cook for one another or bring someone food, we are offering them the sustenance of life. Mindful eating helps people lose their fear around food and restore their reverence and joy for it.
When practicing Mindful Eating, ask yourself, “What am I bringing to the table?” Many of us are bringing chronic levels of stress and overwhelm to our food choices and our processes of eating. Dr. Lissa Rankin, author Mind over Medicine (2014) explains the average person is having about 50 stress responses per day, and that this chronic stress response disables our body’s natural healing repair mechanisms. We tend to bring this stress to the table – to food choices and eating behaviors. Just like the opening quote suggests, it’s important for us to slow down – before, during and after our meals. The good news is that we can make some simple alterations for big results!
We give talks around the country on mindfulness and stress – both components to be aware of when beginning a mindful eating practice. We teach numerous workshops on this topic to a variety of audiences. Recently we spoke to a group of 1,000 cancer survivors and their loved ones at the Georgia Aquarium. We were celebrating Cancer Survivor Day for Piedmont Healthcare and were honored to be asked to be a part of the event. Below we share a basic summary of Mindful Eating practices we covered in our talk:
1. Create a sacred pause (stop, breathe, and center yourself) before, during, and after eating. You can also do this before entering the grocery store, the restaurant, or your home. You can do this before you start cooking or cleaning the kitchen. In this pause is where you can release stress and make wiser choices.
2. Offer a blessing of gratitude for all of those who participated in bringing this food to you – from the farmers to the truck drivers to the salesclerk, etc. Offer a blessing for any life force that was given on behalf of feeding you and giving you sustenance.
3. Ask yourself what this food will do inside of you once consumed. Consider all of the ingredients. Will it be hurtful or helpful? We wouldn’t dream of putting something in the gas tanks of our cars that would clog them up or make the car run less efficiently, but we often will do that to ourselves.
2. Turn the noise level down. Unplug the technology. Put away the work, book, newspaper or cell phone. Enjoy the peaceful energy of quiet while you eat. When eating, just eat. Perhaps you could try eating in Noble Silence every once in a while and see how that feels to you. Research in neurobiology shows that when we eat while distracted, we do not absorb our nutrients as well and we cannot register satiety accurately either.
3. Engage all of your senses – sight, smell, touch, taste, and sometimes even hearing. Allow mealtime to be a sensual experience.
4. Slow down and breathe. Be fully present. Put your utensil down between each bite. Savor each flavor and texture. We can actually enjoy (in joy) our favorite foods even more!
5. Do a brief body scan meditation before you eat. Notice how your body is feeling and what it needs. On a scale from 1-10, don’t let yourself become hungrier than a 3 or more full than a 7 or 8. Check in with yourself throughout the meal to see where your number is. Research reminds us that it takes at least 30 minutes to register satiety, so when we stop at a 7 or 8 we will not overeat. (See our link at the end of this article for a free Body Scan meditation download).
6. Ask yourself “Who in me is hungry and what am I hungry for?” We often use food as a go-to unconsciously to meet every need when in actuality we may be hungry for love and affection, for rest, for meaning and purpose, for stimulation, or something other than food. Sometimes, we may actually be dehydrated and need water and not food. Are you trying to get too many of your needs met with food? Ask yourself if your hunger is mouth hunger, stomach hunger, cellular hunger, psychological hunger, heart hunger, or something else.
7. Enjoy the clean-up process as you did the meal. As the Zen saying goes, “Chop wood, carry water.” When washing the dishes, just wash the dishes. This also goes for food shopping and meal preparation. It is an ancient, universal and sacred practice to prepare food (life force energy) for ourselves and others. Breathe, slow down, and be present. It will be a much more enjoyable experience. Enjoy your time in the kitchen!
8. Get support. Ask for help. Hire a coach or a counselor. Find an accountability buddy. Learn from other healthy eaters. Join a group. Notice how the people you eat with influence you. Attitudes and lifestyles are contagious.
9. Follow Michael Pollan’s Food Rules - (1) eat food, (2) not too much, and (3) mostly plants. Much that is being packaged and sold these days as food are comprised of a lot of chemicals. If you can’t pronounce the words on the label, we suggest you put it back. The whole farm-to-table movement has caught on in restaurants around the country. Shop around the edges of your market for foods that are healthier and closer to the earth. Your mind-body will thank you!
10.Write out a food plan for yourself. What would you like to incorporate over the next week? Make a grocery list and schedule some time to invest in shopping and cooking for your best health. What and who are potential obstacles and how do you intend to work around them? Planning is essential to success!
11. Be compassionate with yourself. With any new process, you are bound to make missteps. Self-criticism is a barrier to forward movement. Speak kindly to yourself, and get back on track.
12. Learn ways to defuse your stress and self-soothe. This is our specialty, and we would be happy to help you or your group.
Remember: Consistent, sustainable, daily steps are key to long-term staggering results. Invest in your health and well-being! You deserve it! Contact us if you need support on your health journey!
Invite us to bring Mindfulness & Stress Management to your next conference or into your organization! We have many formats and approaches for every client – keynote speaking, workshops, programs, and individual and team mindfulness coaching. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an initial consultation. Learn about our full range of services. Download your free mindfulness meditation. Listen to us being interviewed on Newstalk 1160 AM Radio here on “Mindfulness in the Workplace”:
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