It’s been said that party etiquette means never talking about money or politics, but I find a good silencer among party goers is to tell them what kind of work I do! Once I reveal that I’m a psychologist and a nutrition educator, I’m usually left holding my glass of punch by myself as I listen to the proverbial crickets chirping. While I’m “off the clock” when socializing, it is telling that people may carry some shame or self-consciousness around food.
When it comes to how we nourish ourselves, we can easily fall into thoughts of judgment, shame, embarrassment, or even fear. Sometimes the din of cultural expectations, fad diets, and conflicting reports about what is “healthy” can be downright maddening and confusing! But I found that there is a path towards understanding YOUR individual needs, desires, and ability to tune into your body’s signals, which is known as mindful eating.
What is Mindful Eating
I really like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness: paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally. When mindfulness is applied to eating, there are some guidelines about how to nourish ourselves in this deliberate and compassionate way.
Eat when you are hungry
Eat what you want
Cease when fullness is experienced
Eating when hungry is truly being in the moment and on purpose. To eat mindfully means making a deliberate choice about the timing of food. This may result in ditching the clock or the tradition of when meals are “supposed” to happen and following a different rhythm. Mindful eating invites us to honor the body’s request for nourishment and limits the habit of telling the body when it will deal with food.
Eating what you want is also being on purpose and invites the opportunity for non-judgment. Mindful eating is an invitation to ditch placing values on foods, such as “broccoli is good, cake is bad” or “carbs are bad, protein is good.” Truth is, food is just food. It is mere stuff that we can consume, and all foods serve some purpose. Mindful eating is asking that awareness be brought to naming what we want, bringing curiosity to what a particular food provides in the moment and enjoying whatever we choose, without self-blaming, judgement or doubt.
Present moment awareness allows us to bring attention to when we are full. It is not uncommon for us to have lost the signals the body is sending about fullness if we are in the habit of eating while multi-tasking, doing meals in a rush, or engaged in mindless activity while having a snack. Sensing fullness cues may actually have to be relearned, but it can be cultivated. Everybody has their own language of hunger and fullness, so there isn’t just one way to know. If you ever see a baby eat, they will demonstrate real clearly when they are done taking any more bites of anything! We are born knowing when the body has had enough, and mindful eating is a pathway to returning to ourselves, and honor our personal signals.
Why Eat Mindfully
Eating mindfully can provide benefits other than the practice of being on purpose and in the present moment without judgment. There are physical, mental, and emotional gains when we bring more awareness to the when, what and how of nourishing our bodies.
When we eat while multi-tasking or take bites of food without paying attention, cortisol and adrenaline can be active in the body, which may interfere with digestion and absorption. When we eat on purpose it increases the chance that our body will relax, focus on what is happening in the moment and better digest and absorb the nutrition being consumed.
The practice of mindfulness, whatever the task, can help train the mind to increase focus. Eating mindfully is just another way to let your brain practice “being with.” While mindfulness is not a means to an end, it can lead to great secondary gains like increased concentration, increased ability to slow down reaction time, and an improved ability to notice the small details that can bring joy to any situation.
In addition, when we choose to eat more mindfully, we may find that rather than hunger, we may experience feelings that we inadvertently were feeding. This increased self-awareness may lead to further exploration, problem solving, or the release of something that needs to be felt. Apart from that benefit, eating mindfully holds room for increased gratitude. When we contemplate eating one bite at a time, we may feel the joy of all the elements that went into creating the food, the hands that brought it to us (even if by our own) and the wondrous things it is doing for the body.
As with any mindfulness practice, there is no one way to engage. Maybe you don’t have the time to eat an entire meal mindfully, but try seeing, feeling and responding to just a few bites, which may deepen your experience of being nourished.
Eat in good health.
Struggling With How to Nourish Your Body?
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