There's a lot of information available these days around the concept of Mindfulness; it's efficacy touted for helping people become more calm, in the moment and intentional about living. When we are centered and making choices that are wise for our well being, our happiness quotient goes way up. That's good news! There's a lot we can do to develop habits and strategies that help us become healthier, more energetic and at peace in our lives.
We can be mindful about just about everything we do; walking, working, preparing meals, when engaged in conversation with others just to name a few. We can also apply mindful awareness to eating with the intention that it will help us to recognize our unhealthy patterns, understand them, and then go about changing them to more positive and healthful strategies. What exactly is 'mindful eating', and how can it helps us achieve and maintain a healthy weight and adequate nutrition?
It's quite common for people to consume food mindlessly without even tasting what's in their mouths. The problem is that when we eat mindlessly, we don't experience what we're actually consuming fully with all of our senses. The likelihood is that we won't be satiated having eaten without engaging our senses in the moment and then end up eating more than is needed for health without even realizing it.
Mindfulness and mindlessness carry through all aspects of the day, not just eating. How many times do you find yourself somewhere else rather than fully present in the moment and experience at hand? Do you think and worry about what's coming next or maybe lament or ruminate about what's already passed? Have you ever driven and found yourself at your destination without remembering the journey? When it comes to eating, how often have you gobbled down a meal between getting other things done and didn't even taste it? Is that kind of eating a satisfying experience?
The real trick is to reverse these kinds of mindless habits and develop the habit of eating mindfully. You might find you'll enjoy your food much more, and will be better able to listen to your body and honor the natural signals of hunger and satiety. Food is more than just nourishment, it is a complete sensory experience! The visual experience, the smell, the texture, taste and the pleasure of companionship if sharing meals with loved ones are part of the experience of eating with all your senses, or mindful eating.
How can you begin to eat mindfully? At your next meal, set aside just a little extra time to fully engage with the experience. First stop and just take note of where you are; feel yourself in your seat, and take a few deep breaths. Spend some time looking at, smelling, touching and thinking about the food in front of you. Notice the colors, the aromas, the textures. Consider how the food came to your plate. Where was it grown or made? Who prepared it for you? When you are ready, take a bite, put your utensil down, then chew slowly while really savoring the food that is in your mouth. Notice the flavors as they unfold in your mouth....savory, sweet, sour, salty. Feel the texture; is is smooth and silky, crunchy or chewy? Notice the temperature. Then swallow after chewing thoroughly, and take another deep breath or two before moving on to the next bite. Of course we cannot spend hours at each meal and snack slowly savoring our food, the world we live in simply won't allow it. But you can try to make a habit of making the first bite of everything you eat a truly mindful one, or perhaps if time allows spend the first three to five minutes of each meal eating mindfully. Devote about 3 minutes to this kind of activity on a regular basis and the payback will be huge.
If you're interested in reading more about mindfulness and eating, there are some great resources out there both in print and on line as guided eating meditations. Here's some suggestions:
Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, by Brian Wansink, PhD
Savor by Lilian Cheung, DSc, RD and Thich Nhat Hanh
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