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Most of us love food. Yet, instead of paying attention to the foods that we eat, we often eat breakfast on the go, mingle over a tray of appetizers, or mindlessly polish off a bowl of chips while watching a movie.
Why is it that we can think about food throughout the day except when we are actually eating? If you mindlessly rush through your meal, you miss out on the opportunity to truly savour and enjoy each bite. You may finish your meal and want seconds because you missed out on the enjoyment of eating. And, because you missed out on the pleasure of eating, your body will still feel hungry.
First, I want you to know that you are not alone! But….Why are you doing this?
Because you are going to be focusing on how to eat before we can get to what to eat. Most diet plans focus on macronutrients, and what we ‘can and cannot’ eat- but miss out on the important habits when it comes to healthy eating.
There are four main reasons for relaxed and mindful eating:
- You will drastically improve the enjoyment that you get out of the food you eat. I want you to enjoy your food and to get the psychological satisfaction out of eating. If you are unaware that you just finished a bag of popcorn while watching a movie, you’ll probably end up wanting more popcorn.
- Digestion starts in the brain, and proper digestion happens in a relaxed state. When we eat on the run, or in any state other than relaxation (perhaps while working at your computer, or rushing in the morning to get your kids to school), nutrient absorption decreases, cholesterol levels rise, and our ability to actually digest our food decreases. This results in higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), inflammation, indigestion, bloating, gas, weight gain and nutrient deficiency. Personally I think happy digestion is a really good reason to slow down when you eat!
- With relaxed and mindful eating, you learn to tune into your body to see when you’re actually hungry instead of eating when you’re “supposed” to. If you think about it, so much of our eating is done due to reasons completely unrelated to actual physical hunger (e.g. eating when bored, eating when a certain time like lunch time hits, eating to not feel left out in social situations, eating with an association to an activity like watching a movie, eating in response to a positive or negative emotion etc.).Eating mindfully will be a way of progressively learning to tune back into physical hunger, allowing you the freedom to eat when you’re hungry, and then stop when you’re full.
- Mindful eating reduces the amount of unplanned eating. Even if your mind doesn’t recognize that you just ate a 200 calories worth of food samples while shopping at Costco, your body still uses those calories, and will store them as extra fat if they are not needed. By following the principles of mindful eating, eating will become a purposeful and planned activity. Trust me- polishing off the left overs from your kid’s dinner, or licking the peanut butter from the knife after making the next day’s lunches will show up on your waistline. But is it worth it? Does the bites of food here and there really improve the quality of your life. Probably not.
There are four basic guidelines to follow while relaxed, mindful eating. I will also share some tips to get the most enjoyment out of your meal.
- Pause and calm down before eating. Take 5-10 long, slow breaths before starting your meal. Say ‘thank you’ for your meal.
- Eat all your food off of a plate or bowl, pre-portioned. Do not eat straight from the serving container.
- Take long, slow breaths in between bites.
- Eat all your food while sitting down. This means no samples while at the grocery store, sampling the leftovers from your family’s plates while cleaning up after dinner, and so on.
- Eat slowly…. Really slowly, and chew. I recommend 25-40 ‘chews’ per bite. Yes, you’ll be eating for a while.
Eating mindfully is a Cornerstone Habit
Eating mindfully is considered “cornerstone” or “foundational” habit. This means that these habits you can practice anytime, anyplace, anywhere and they will always help you towards your goals.
That means that even if you are eating cheesecake, you can still practice eating the cheesecake slowly. The more committed you are to practicing this habit the better your “nutritional foundation” will be for the rest of your life.
So even though this all might seem very simple, trust that it’s one of the most important things you will learn and practice to build a long term,
Like any new skill, mindful eating takes practice. Start by aiming to eat mindfully for one meal per day. To eat mindfully, pay close attention to the colours, textures, tastes and smells of your food as you savour each bite.
Good luck and enjoy the journey!