As I’m researching the concept of mindfulness, I was browsing through “99 Ways to Live a Mindful Life” edited by Kelle Walsh and published by James Gimian in 2017. Of the 99 mindfulness tips, numbers 67-77 were focused on mindful eating. My first thought was, “Wow, should eating really account for over a tenth of the mindfulness tips?” But, eating is a big deal, right? Some of us may feel as though we’re already too aware of what we eat. Some of us are used to feeling ashamed or judged due to our food choices and the idea of being more mindful may seem like asking for an extra serving of guilt with a side of shame. Mindful eating is not as painful as it sounds and it is not the same thing as being overly self-conscious about what you eat. If done correctly, mindful eating should help you feel better about eating – not worse. Let’s take a look!
We get so used to multitasking in our corporate and 9-5 society that we rarely ever hear of monotasking. What is monotasking and what does it have to do with eating? Monotasking is – as it sounds – focusing on a singular task. Instead of planning what you’ll do next after eating lunch, scribbling out your to-do list over breakfast, or catching up on your social media during dinner, just stop. Put your phone away. Slide the paperwork to the side of your desk. Focus on your meal and the nourishment that you’re about to enjoy. You would be surprised what a calm, monotasked meal can do for your mental health.
When you pick up that baby carrot as a snack around 2 pm, do you think about the life of this baby carrot before you consume it? The farmer that planted the seed, the rain and soil that nurtured it, the hands that harvested it, the inspector who approved it for consumption, the transit into a market place, and the worker who stocked the produce area; this carrot has been through an immense journey in order to arrive in your hands as a snack. If we are more mindful of the process, nature, and people who contributed to each item we consume, we are more likely to savor the nutrients and be grateful for what the earth has provided.
It comes as no surprise that part of being mindful during our consumption of food involves our senses. Taking time to appreciate the smell, the texture, the freshness, etc. can enhance your enjoyment of the meal altogether. Even if you’re eating something that you’ve already eaten a hundred times because it’s your favorite meal, take the time to appreciate every aspect of what you’re consuming and try your best to identify what it is that you like about it.
For example, “I love the smell of coffee in the morning because I associate the smell with the idea of a new day beginning. I love the warmth of the coffee as it coats my throat because I wake up with a dry mouth and the comforting, warm liquid is the perfect cure. As I drink my coffee, I always remember mornings with my mother; we used to talk about life and ideas until the chaos of the day had to begin once our cups were empty. I also think about my father; I inherited a brand-specific taste for coffee due to the familiar smell that used to fill our home; his favorite coffee became my favorite. A simple cup of coffee in the morning is both the promise and possibility of the day and a reminder of my parents and a childhood that once was in their home.”
Give it a try! Write a paragraph or describe to a friend what you love about your favorite drink/food and try to identify the specifics that make it your favorite. Now imagine doing this over every single dish that brings you pleasure! What a wonderful experience that would be if we could enjoy something as simple as breakfast in a magical way.
Body feeds Mind
An obvious yet important-to-mention part of mindful eating is acknowledging the connection between your body and mind. When you put good things into your body, your mind is a healthier and happier dwelling place. As you eat, try your best to think about what your body needs rather than what it wants. Many sources recommend a 20-minute timer to curb unhealthy cravings. Other people assign themselves a cheat day twice a month and write a note to remind themselves that this craving they’re having right now is something they’d like to indulge in later. Others rid the house of unhealthy foods and replace them with healthier options. Whatever your tactic is, tapping in to what your body needs vs what your body thinks it wants is an important piece of mindful eating. Be aware of how the food you’re eating was prepared, where it came from, and how much of it your body needs for fuel.
Mind feeds Body
Remember that the mind-body connection goes both ways. If you do have a moment when nothing else will suffice but ice cream in bed, don’t add guilt and shame as a topping to your dessert! Enjoy your treat without the mental shame game. Remember that negative foods lead to negative emotions and negative thoughts lead to stress hormones and weight gain. Ingest nutritious and healthy foods and invest in nurturing and healthy thoughts. This is a lot easier said than done considering how body-focused our society is, but remember that you are in control of your thoughts and feelings. You’re not choosing healthy foods because society tells you to – you’re choosing healthy foods because you care about the wellbeing of your body and mind.
Mental Health Note
Some people struggle with eating disorders that result in over-eating, binge eating, purging, or restricting nutrients. If you identify with a genuine struggle when it comes to eating, don’t suffer alone. Join a support group. Talk to a nutritionist. See a mental health therapist who specializes in eating disorders. Get help. Mindful eating also means being mindful of when eating or not eating is a hardship. If this is something you struggle to feel okay with, don’t blame yourself. Eating disorders arise from a variety of experiences that are often out of our control. You do not need to feel ashamed or discouraged; instead, love yourself enough to know that you’re worth the time it takes to connect to helpful resources in your community.