Tips for Mindful Eating
Whether you are vegan, paleo, carnivore, an emotional eater or an overeater, mindfulness has the power to help ease your digestion, get more nourishment from your food, more pleasure at mealtime, gain control over your eating habits, manage a healthy weight, and come into greater connection with your body, its needs, and its signals. That’s Powerful!
Most of us eat on-the-go, while watching television, while working, or while ruminating on past events or an uncertain future. Unfortunately when we are distracted from our food, our bodies are not prepared to digest our meals properly. Our digestive system requires a sensual awareness of our food in order to release the proper enzymes and acids required for digestion. Furthermore, when we are in a stressed out state, we are in the sympathetic branch of our nervous system which diverts blood flow away from the digestive tract. Check out my post, We’re Not Fat; We’re Inflamed to read more about how chronic stress affects digestion and what I believe is really going on with the obesity epidemic.
Mindfulness is the practice of being aware and present in the moment. When it comes to eating, this means cultivating a calm environment, then feasting with your eyes, smelling your food, really tasting and appreciating each bite, and even touching your food. I actually eat with my hands when I can at home. I feel that this tactile relationship tunes me into my food more fully and allows me to honor my body’s needs.
Mindful eating improves digestion and the body absorbs more nutrition as a result. It helps us gain better control over our eating habits and has been shown to promote weight loss and reduce binge eating ~ improving our overall health. Remember, eating is truly an act of self care and taking extra time with your food is an opportunity to treat your own life with reverence and to bring more joy and relaxation to your everyday experiences.
So, what does Mindful Eating look like?
Set the Scene
Creating a warm and inviting atmosphere will help to induce a state of relaxation, which is necessary for proper digestion.
If you have the time and inclination, make your table into an altar with a simple vase of wildflowers or light a candle. At a minimum, clear the table so there isn’t mail, magazines or a laptop in front of you.
Turn off or silence your devices prior to eating to minimize distraction.
Put on some calm & soothing music. I like Stephen Halpern’s music. It’s guaranteed to relax you… He’s a calming wizard! :)
To relax even further so your nervous system can switch into the parasympathetic state of rest and digest, try Diaphragmatic Breathing. Take five deep breaths into your belly allowing it to expand fully including out to the sides then make your exhales about twice as long as your inhales. If you need more help, search YouTube for “Diaphragmatic Breath” to watch tutorials.
Silence while eating is best for focus but if you prefer breaking bread in company, keep the conversation light and positive.
An Attitude of Gratitude
A state of gratitude also helps us drop into that sweet space of rest and digest. This is part of the wisdom embedded into the act of praying before meals.
Take a moment to clear your head and appreciate the food. Remember, a lot of work goes into each meal that you eat. Thank the farmers, thank the butchers, thank the delivery drivers, thank Mother Earth, thank your chef!
A Sensual Experience
Once we’re in a relaxed state, it’s important to focus on the food. What does it look like? Smell like? Feel like? Taste like?
If you struggle with portion control, serve yourself on a small plate and if at the end of your meal you are still hungry, get seconds! In time, you will come into a better relationship with your true hunger signals.
Smelling or even just thinking about food causes your stomach to begin producing gastric secretions. In fact, 20% of these acids are produced before food even enters your mouth so long as you are paying attention to it.
Chewing your food also sends digestive signals to your gut. If you eat too quickly and don’t chew thoroughly, you’re cutting this process time in half or less, which can significantly reduce the production of gastric secretions needed to break down your food for absorption.
Chew to the point in which the food in your mouth becomes soft and pasty and give the enzymes secreted in your mouth time to do their work. Chewing thoroughly also helps prevent overeating and promotes weight loss. Enjoy the wonderful flavors and textures before swallowing.
Eat slowly. Put your fork down between bites. It takes about 20 minutes to recognize that you are full. Eating too much stresses the body, which is exactly what we are trying to avoid.
When you’re done, go on a walk or give yourself a belly massage to aid in digestion. I used to do this intuitively before realizing it’s actually a thing. Google “digestive massage” for more info.
Notice how the food makes you feel in the hours following your meal to develop a more positive relationship with food.
Like I said earlier, eating is an act of self-care. No matter what you choose to put into your body, do it with reverence. Treat yourself like the sacred being you truly are! Take the time to enjoy each meal and see if you can bring this type of presence into the rest of your life too. Best wishes!
This post was written for the lovely folks and customers at Mother Earth Food! As always, thanks so much for the opportunity to share!