As a yoga instructor I spend lots of time talking about awareness or mindfulness. During a yoga practice it is essential to draw your attention inside, tune into strong and subtle sensations in your body, notice the language of breath and adjust your practice based upon the specific needs of yourself. One of the most powerful aspects of yoga is that the lessons learned on the yoga mat often weave themselves into our lives. Mindful eating is one of these examples.
What does eating mindfully actually mean? In a culture that encourages tight scheduling, multi-tasking and consumerism many of us find it difficult to slow down, focus and only take what is needed. This applies to what and how we eat. Have you ever had a stressful event at work happen and shortly afterwards find yourself indulging in a bowl of ice cream or slice of pizza? How often do you spend your lunch eating AND checking emails, Facebook or trolling the internet? Have you ever taken a snack to the couch while watching your favorite program only to realize that your snack has become an epic lapse in self-control and that you will need to do ten power yoga classes just to burn off the “stored energy” that you have just added to your bum?! You are not alone!
Mindless eating doesn’t come without a price. The most obvious is that it can lead to weight problems and even obesity. However, eating without awareness doesn’t just lead to eating too much. It also leads to eating the wrong foods. This can result in nutrient deficiencies, compromised digestion, suppressed immunity, and a host of diseases.
Fortunately a few simple steps can get you well on your way towards eating with intention:
1. Start a mindful eating journal! For one to two weeks record everything you eat and drink and as well as your emotional and physical states throughout the day. Use your body as a laboratory and listen to its strong and subtle cues. Pay attention to your hunger signals and draw connections between your energy levels, mood, stress levels and diet. Note your triggers and any times of day or activities during which you tend to eat mindlessly.
2. Respect your food! Take time to design a weekly meal plan that includes nutritious snacks. When grocery shopping chose the freshest and most fragrant fruits and vegetables, a wide variety of beautiful whole grains and the most sustainably and organically grown and raised produce and proteins. See cooking as an expression of love for your body and the bodies of those you love. Before eating take time to honour your food and the many hearts and hands that worked to bring it to your table.
3. See food as nutrition and fuel! Don’t just eat food because it tastes good, eat it because it is nourishing each one of your cells! Consider how alive your food is and eat foods rich in prana! For example, a piece of white bread or a spoon full of white sugar is high in calories but low in nutrients and prana. In contrast, a green salad topped with sprouts and avocado is bursting with nutrients (and flavour too)!!!
4. Ask questions and pay attention. Am I hungry? How hungry am I? How much do I need to eat? Before opening your mouth make a decision about how big of a serving you actually need. While eating, tune into sensations of satiation. Pay attention to how full you fill and stop before you are stuffed! You should be pleasantly satisfied, not bursting at the seams.
5. Slow down, sit down, eat with family and take time to talk and to chew. Meals are made to be enjoyed! The more slowly you eat, the more attention you can pay to your food and your company. An excellent way to ensure that you are chewing your food enough is to put your fork down between bites. It takes 20 minutes for the brain to register that the stomach is full so eating slowly provides more accurate satiation signals.
There! Now you are well on your way to being a mindful eater!