You’ve heard of mindfulness – or maybe not. What is it? What does it mean? Why do it? What’s in it for me? All good questions. Add to that – “Why does eating mindfully make a difference?”
The dictionary describes mindfulness as “a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.”
The idea of mindfulness is that you bring total awareness to every moment – paying attention to what you are doing, thinking, feeling, experiencing in that moment.
Benefits of mindfulness that have been reported include less stress, lower blood pressure, better sleep, better memory, greater efficiency, better relationships, and the list goes on.
So why eat mindfully? Think about your normal meal routine. Are you rushing through breakfast to make that early meeting? Do you eat while driving? Do you eat lunch in front of the computer? Do you eat dinner in front of the T.V.? Do you sometimes forget what you even ate? Do you sometimes find yourself eating a whole bag of chips or a whole box of cookies without even realizing what you were doing? Do you ever feel after a meal like you ate too much?
What would eating mindfully look like?
Imagine putting food on a plate. Then take just a moment to look at that food. Allow it to register mentally – what it is, how it looks (colors, textures…), how it smells, where did it come from (a box, a market, your garden, someone cooked it for you or you created it). This does not have to take long, and it can make an enormous difference in how your body digests your food. Sensory awareness of food that you are about to eat starts the process of digestion. The saliva glands begin to work, and your brain signals your body to get ready for digestion. All of this happens very quickly IF you allow yourself to be mindful.
Then take a breath. Feel gratitude for the food on your plate. Now take a bite. Allow your mouth to fully taste the food. Feel the textures. Chew carefully while noticing all the sensations (aroma, taste, texture…) of this first bite. Chewing your food well sets up the whole digestion system for success. Food moves through more quickly. Nutrients are more completely absorbed rather than going through the system undigested.
Take the next bite and again notice your body’s response. Do you feel pleasure? Do you feel gratitude for whoever prepared this food, grew this food? Do you feel gratitude that you have food to nourish your body? How is your body responding to the food?
Next, as you continue to eat a few more bites, notice your surroundings. Are you alone? What is happening outside? Are you sharing a meal with someone you care about? How does your body feel in this setting? Are you feeling anxious? If so, it is very important that you stop eating for a moment and breathe. Breathe into your belly and exhale slowly. Repeat until you feel calmer.
We know that stress causes several hormones to release – adrenaline and cortisol among them. Stress signals your body to stop digesting and to STORE this food away for future needs. This is an ancient survival mechanism so that our energy could be diverted to the large muscles for flight or fight. Is that what you want today? Is your body creating a nice big storage belly because you are too stressed to digest the food you eat?
What about those dinners in front of the T.V.? That doesn’t seem stressful, right? Except how many of you are watching the evening news or your favorite cop show?
Your beautiful mind will respond to the tension in your body from these shows exactly as if you were experiencing the situation yourself. Fight or flight – release hormones – stop digesting – store the food!!
I know we still have those morning meeting, those lunchtime deadlines, etc. What your body wants you to know is that you are better off not eating, then eating under stress. In the morning when you are rushed, try to give yourself 10 minutes to eat an apple mindfully. Do the same mid-morning when hunger strikes again. Take yourself away from the computer and the T.V. when you eat. You will likely find that your mind is refreshed, your body is calmer, and you can work more efficiently when you return. You may also notice that your belly store of calories stops growing and might even shrink.
Wishing you beautiful health always.