You Are How You Eat: The Complete Guide to Mindful Eating
Let's be honest: none of us are unique.
We all have busy lives, running from one task to the next, and to fuel our chaotic existence, we stuff our faces with whatever is most convenient like an In N' Out Double Double (animal style of course) or the three-day-old sesame chicken.
While these examples are unhealthy, we still do the same routine with healthier foods. We'll make a salad and then stare at our phones while we shovel lettuce into our mouth and hope that the reflexive part of our brain will magically stab that last, elusive cherry tomato.
These behaviors have caused so many issues: over-consumption, fatty diets, and the occasional smoldering cheese burn on the roof of your mouth. Rather than focusing on what you eat, it may be time to focus on how and why you eat.
What is Mindful Eating?
The concept itself sounds simple: pay attention to what you eat. But, mindful eating is more than noticing or recognizing the enormous amounts of spaghetti you shove into your mouth.
Mindful eating is using all your senses to experience food for its satiating qualities. It's acknowledging your body's responses to hunger and the emotions that come from that experience. It's consciously maintaining a nourishing, mindful diet, while also rewarding yourself with food you enjoy.
Here's an example of the thoughts your brain may go through while mindful eating if you're still confused:
I feel something in my stomach. Is it hunger or nervousness? Well, it's hunger. I need something to eat. A juicy burger sounds delicious, but wait, I know that ten-minute tastiness will lead to my stomach's three-hour turmoil. I'll feel best if I ate something fresh. I think I'll make myself a salad, and two hard-boiled eggs, since the protein will help me recover from my workout later. I'll cut out the dressing today because even though that creamy ranch is delicious, it doesn't sit well in my stomach.
The first bite is crisp and juicy. I can feel a bit of the crumbling egg mixed with the romaine and spinach. My teeth break down the food so that my body can process the nutrients later. I swallow, feeling my esophagus push down the food like last bit of toothpaste in the tube. The salad hits my stomach. I notice the hunger dissipating, and that emotion is full. My body feels nourished.
I listened to my body's feelings and didn't need to eat anymore. I'm thankful for the food I just ate. It fed my physical and emotional needs.
Why Should You Try Mindful Eating?
Alright, at this point, you may think I'm crazy.
But mindful eating has so many benefits.
On the physical side, you tend to eat more healthily when you're aware of the food you consume. You eat less, and truly understand your physical needs. While not many scientific studies have been conducted to prove that mindful eating leads to weight loss entirely, it seems sort of intuitive that if you are conscious about not stuffing your face, you won't stuff your face.
On the psychological side, it also does wonders. Mindful eating puts you more in touch with your emotions, and cultivates understanding for motivation beyond just your food.
If you can understand an emotion like hunger, and effectively act on that emotion by nourishing your body with food, then who's to say you can't understand the feeling of anger and effectively act on that emotion by calmly breathing.
Mindful eating doesn't sound so stupid now.
How can you eat mindfully?
Eating, in general, should be a unique experience. That is, your emotions and senses will never be exactly like someone else's, even if the food, and setting, is the same. What works for someone else may not work for you, but you should still try a few of these techniques to master your art of conscious eating.
- Turn off any distractions: TV, Phone, etc.
- Get out of auto-pilot mode.
- Chew slower and longer, reflecting on the nutrients in the food.
- Don't load your fork again until you swallow the previous bite.
- Eat with your off-hand.
- Act like every meal you have to write a detailed Yelp review.
- Eat outside in the park or away from your standard kitchen.
- Check your emotions after every bite.
- Search for the connection between you and your food.
Being aware and conscious of what you consume takes practice, but mindful eating is essential for nurturing a positive relationship between your body and your mind. Avoid letting your brain wander, picking through cabinets or opening, then closing the fridge fifteen times, and focus on what your food can do for you.
There's the adage of "you are what you eat," which still holds, but with mindful eating, the more accurate form is "you are how you eat."
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