Mindful Eating: 8 Steps To Get Started
By Sarah Axtell, ND • February 14, 2015
You’ve heard the old adage, “You are what you eat,” which is absolutely true. But we are also HOW we eat. In today’s world, we are inundated with distractions while we eat- whether it be eating in front of the tv, eating in the car, scrolling through facebook while you scarf down your lunch, etc. The fast pace of modern life leaves little time to enjoy, savor and yes, digest your food.
We have two different nervous systems- a sympathetic nervous system and a parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is often referred to as the “fight or flight response.” In this state, your body is preparing you for physical activity or survival and could care less about digesting what you ate for lunch. The parasympathetic nervous system activates calming and tranquil functions, such as stimulating digestive enzymes in the stomach and allowing you to get a good night’s rest. It is all about “resting and digesting.” Most of us are in a constant state of sympathetic overdrive, which inhibits digestion and relaxation.
Mindful eating promotes good digestion as well as a healthy relationship with food. It’s about being aware of how you feel about food, ensuring that you are truly hungry when you eat and honoring the source of your food. It’s also about focusing on the sensory experience of food, appreciating the textures, aromas and colors (your plate should be aesthetically pleasing with lots of color!) of your food.
Here are some suggestions to promote mindful eating:
1. Turn off all devices. No phone, no tv, no computer when you eat.
2. Sit down. Plain and simple- don’t inhale your food over the kitchen sink. This will only promote that “fight or flight” response and you will be left feeling unsatisfied with a feeling of indigestion.
3. Savor the flavors, textures and aromas of your food. Really think about the specific flavors of your dish. Is it sweet, bitter, spicy? Is it smooth, soft or crunchy? Take a big inhale of the aromas of the food before starting your dish.
4. Chew your food. Try chewing your food 30 times until the food is liquified. This will promote optimal digestion and train your body to slow down.
5. Put your fork down in between bites. The point here is again to slow down.
6. Ask yourself “Why am I eating?” If you are hungry, then you truly require sustenance and will benefit from this nourishing food. Many people eat out of boredom, reward, sadness, anger, etc. The first step to remedying the emotional eating habit is to be aware- to be conscious of it before heading to the kitchen.
7. Put your food on display. When you eat straight out of the bag or the jar, you are mindless about the portion size. Be mindful about the portion size by using a plate or a bowl. For example, when you eat peanut or almond butter, measure out 2 tbsp and put it in a aesthetically pleasing bowl. This will make you feel more satisfied and will enhance the experience.
8. Honor your food. Take a moment to think about where your food came from. The goal is to eat real, whole food and minimized processed food. It’s easier to trace the path of real food than it is the heavily processed food, which can actually be unappetizing to think about hormone-laden cows in a CFO unit or what exactly is actually in your bag of doritos.
Many people have a difficult time recognizing when they are hungry and when they are full. One of the reasons people become overweight or develop food issues is that they ignore or have lost awareness or appreciation for their true hunger signals. By partaking in one of the above steps, I think you will gain more consciousness of your body and its internal cues it is giving you. To make mindful eating realistic for you, start slow. Begin with one snack a day or one meal a week to practice mindful eating.
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.