We are constantly bombarded with advice on what we should and shouldn’t eat. Sugar is bad, salt is bad, fat it bad. Vegetables are good, lean chicken breast is good, fruit is awesome. Add onto that the unrelenting barrage of food and beverage advertising and it’s no wonder many of us feel overwhelmed or frustrated with the whole process of trying to decide what food to buy and eat. Some people even choose to stick their head in the sand and take the ‘life’s too short, just eat what you want’ approach.
Well there is one, deceptively simple, way to cut through all this confusion and create a more relaxed, positive relationship with food. It’s called mindful eating.
Mindful eating puts the focus on how we eat rather than what we eat. And no, this isn’t just about food preparation – it’s much wider reaching than that. Mindful eating is a zen practice that has been around for centuries. Today it is becoming more widely known and understood in the mainstream and has been successfully used to help treat eating disorders. The Centre for Mindful Eating provides this helpful description:
“Mindful Eating is allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom. By using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body, acknowledging your responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment, and becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating you can change your relationship to food.”
How many times have you sat down in front of the TV with a packet of chips and before you register which flavor they are, the whole packet is gone? How often do you rush through a meal because you have something else to get to? How many times have you grabbed take-out or a ready meal without really considering what’s in it? How often do you really taste and feel what you’re eating? When is the last time you actually felt full and satisfied without that heavy, uncomfortable feeling?
Mindful eating is all about recognising that these questions, and others like them, need to be considered. It’s about paying attention to what you choose to eat, what’s in it, how it smells, how it tastes, how it makes you feel and so on. It’s about acknowledging that food is integral to our survival and can be a pleasurable experience without being destructive. That eating is about more than stuffing something into your mouth on your way to meeting.
So how do you actually put it into practice? Here are a few simple steps to get you started:
1. Prioritize. Recognize that mealtimes are important and try to make time to sit down and eat rather than grabbing something on the go.
2. Feel and taste. As you take a bite, feel that different textures in your mouth and taste the different flavours. Consider what you do and don’t like about what you’re eating.
3. Switch the TV off. As much as possible, try not to have any distractions while eating. Try to give your meal your full attention.
4. Don’t judge. Try not to be too critical of yourself when trying to eat mindfully. Couldn’t make time for a sit-down lunch today? That’s OK, try again tomorrow. Not liking the flavor of the healthy dinner you cooked? No biggie, change some of the ingredients next time. Kids being loud and distracting during meal time, making it impossible to concentrate? Don’t worry, that’s life!
These are just a few, basic ways in which you can start to bring mindful eating into your life (for more details and guidance go to http://thecenterformindfuleating.org/). It may seem a little simplistic, and maybe even silly, to suggest that mindful eating can make a real impact on you diet and health. How’s sitting in silence and fixating on my burrito going to make me lose weight? Right? But paying a little more attention to what you put into your body and how it makes you feel can go a surprisingly long way to creating more interest and awareness of where our food comes from and what it does to our bodies. And once we have that kind of knowledge, anything is possible.