Eating mindfully is a challenge in a world where we can find ourselves rushing from one thing to the next, and not paying full attention to what we are putting in our mouths. Learning to eat mindfully can be the remedy to mindless eating. It is easy to fall victim to mindless eating if you are snacking whilst rushing from one job to the next! You may find yourself wolfing down each mouthful without truly tasting, let alone enjoying your food.
Some days it’s hard to avoid eating on the run, I have definitely mastered the art of balancing toast on one knee as I reverse out of the driveway, and for many you will know why driving while eating is said to be as dangerous as texting while driving!
Habits like snacking on sweets late at night, overeating at meal times, or comfort eating biscuits at that 4 pm low, may leave you struggling with weight gain, bloating and a general sense of feeling disempowered. You may also be missing the wonderful opportunity to focus on your food, with the intention of truly nourishing yourself on every level. Food satisfies us nutritionally but emotionally too. Our relationship to food is so emotionally charged- a friend of mine and I often joke just after we’ve had breakfast and ask “What’s for lunch?” we look forward to our meals, they punctuate our days. We associate food with occasions- birthday cake at birthdays, coffee in the morning, pies at the footy. However, what if you questioned this and became acutely aware of what you needed and didn’t need in any given moment? Some day’s you may feel like indulging in a slice of deliciously, rich carrot cake, savouring every bite of it’s sticky, creamy goodness. However eating certain foods out of habit can leave our bodies feeling out of balance. Strictly denying ourselves food that we truly enjoy or embarking upon fad diets can create a sense of deprivation & start the cascade of craving what we can’t have. If food is deemed ‘bad’ a cycle of restriction vs blow out can erupt, or even more distressing the binge/ starve cycle suffered by those with a true eating disorder. Denial can create a sense of sadness as the enjoyment of what we eat is such an essential ingredient to our happiness.
Food is supposed to taste good! it is sensual, it can stimulate every one of our senses and is intrinsically linked to our passion for life.
Eating can also give us comfort and distraction from physical and emotional distress. Scientists have explored the theory that eating inhibits the pain sensors in the body, by raising endorphins and serotonin levels. This makes sense in a world where many are emotional eaters…… so Tim Tam and Nutella sandwiches do actually ease a broken heart! ………but only temporarily.
With food now so readily available it’s easy to overlook how lucky we are to have it! Some researchers suggest that in general people in the western world are just in the habit of eating too much. We were born to hunt and work for our food, healthy fasting has been proven to stimulate the energy in our body, along with weight loss and other anti ageing benefits. Short periods of fasting can help to reset your hunger signals, shrink your stomach and help you to eat more consciously. Now I’m no advocate for extreme juice fasts as they work wonders for some and are totally unachievable for others. When I talk about fasting I mean a day. An early dinner, no breakfast the next day, with the fast broken with a small well planned late lunch or dinner if you can make it that far. This timing means you’re actually asleep the majority of the fast! If you have been overeating and truly want to get the benefits of the fast you need to be comfortable with being a little bit hungry, this means your stomach is shrinking- and some find this harder than others.
Another way to help you restore a healthy relationship with food is to use your hunger signals, or what you interpret as hunger as a signpost to stop, tune in & ask yourself this question-
“ What do I really need right now?” and sometimes this may ‘not’ be food. Try and get into the habit of exploring your response. ” How am I really feeling? Am I feeling tired? am I feeling stressed?” It can be helpful to name the emotion by saying it to yourself. The next step is to accept this emotion, feel it and resist the need to to stuff it down and try to make it go away. If we use food to mask our feelings the suppression can lead to stomach problems, and compound an unsettled relationship to our appetite and ourselves.
This brings me to Hara Hachi Bu. When I read about Hara Hachi Bu not long ago it really resonated with me. We have a lot to learn from the Japanese lifestyle, as Japan has a very low rate of obesity compared to the western world. Hara Hachi Bu is the practice of only ever eating to 80% full. This prevents the stretching of the stomach, leaving you feeling in control and looking forward to your next meal. The theory of Hara Hachi Bu encourages you to finishes each mouthful before beginning the next. Actually quite hard to do once you start to become aware of it- try! Focusing on your breath whilst eating, can also help you listen to your bodies intuitive voice and finishing your meal with a little room left is the key. This inner communication can be hard to hear sometimes, especially over the noise of our thoughts and other distractions- our bodies voice can just a feint whisper and easy to miss.
Getting into the habit of listening more intently to our bodies wisdom takes practice, but every time you eat mindfully it brings you closer to this becoming a life long habit.
Some tips to help you eat mindfully:
Take the time to eat undistracted & ensure you are comfortable when you eat. Eating standing up can impair digestion, sit down & eat slowly.
Drinking lots of water throughout the day can help you not mistake thirst for hunger.
Drinking herbal tea, or warm water after meals aids in the breakdown of fats, and is nice to nurse as you sit for a couple of minutes after eating.
Allowing 20 minutes for your body to register that it is full can prevent you missing that full signal. So stop and wait for delayed fullness to kick in.
Be aware of your trigger foods! The classics are chocolate, cakes, biscuits and chips! It’s not often you see someone binge on a salad.
If you are heading out to a function where there is finger food & alcohol try to eat a proper meal before hand.
Being aware of your food cravings can help, certain foods can be indicators of a craving for something else i.e.. chocolate- craving romance & love, coffee- energy or a sign you are overly pushing yourself, Salty foods- frustration and restlessness.
Both Western and Eastern medicine agree that the best time to eat is from early to the middle of the day, this is when the digestive juices are at their highest and the digestive fire in your belly.
Research Ayurveda and the Chinese Chi cycle and learn about eating for your body type and with your body clock.
Seeking out other alternative pleasures other than food can also lead you to a more balanced approach to eating. Fill your pleasure tank! Listen to music- find an uplifting song that you can listen to when you feel like overeating. Bubble baths, fragrance, soft fabrics, nature, friends, art, sleep, meditation, laughter, massage, exercise that feels good, sex, love, cuddles, water, body creams, clothes, sleep. ( yes, I did write sleep twice)
Dabbing an essential oil or fragrance of your choice on your wrist that you can inhale after a meal can help to settle you.
Wearing soft sensual fabrics or a beautiful scarf that you can wrap yourself in is also a nice way to remind yourself to check in with your body and give yourself comfort if you need.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below-A friend made me laugh the other day- after reading this post he shared with me that he’d had a revelation! It dawned on him that he didn’t need to eat every last thing on his plate, until he was stuffed full, concluding every evening meal with the ceremonious unbuttoning of his pants as he stumbled to the couch!
He could stop, eat less and enjoy more.