Three cups of this food group, 500 calories of that – we pay a great deal of attention to what we eat, but many of us are ignoring its counterpart: how we eat.
Many of us don’t have a particularly healthy relationship with food. We’ve assigned “good” and “bad” labels to food and feel a tremendous amount of guilt when we indulge in the latter. We’ve deprived ourselves of foods we like, only to swing back into our old habits and berate ourselves for our lack of self-control.
It doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves or our bodies, which in turn often makes us eat more as we seek to comfort ourselves. The messages out there are confusing, one minute everyone is on the Atkins diet, the next they’re all doing juice fasts.
On top of that, eating often takes place on the go; at a desk, in the car, or during another activity, like watching TV or trying to catch up with friends.
We’ve disconnected from the magical experience of eating. The smell of a good meal and the joy of sitting down at the table at the end of a long day and catching up with your loved ones is a brilliant way to combat the stress of modern life.
But there is a fantastically easy way to eat what you like, when you like and to never have to follow a restricting diet again: Mindful eating is a way we can reconnect with ourselves – and enjoy the experience of nourishing our bodies.
Put your judgment aside.
In mindful eating, there’s no right or wrong way to eat. When you taste a food that you don’t find appealing, you don’t judge yourself (or the spinach /scrambled egg/red snapper) – you simply acknowledge the feeling and move on. The same goes for when you eat something that’s high-fat or high-sugar.
So, in other words: Tear up the diet rule book that you’ve followed all your adult life.
Check in with yourself.
What are you feeling? What are you thinking about? Over time, when you’re really paying attention, you might notice patterns in your eating habits – for example, when you’re stressed, you might head straight for the carbs. ‘Had an argument with someone or you’re tired? – you might find it’s always then that you wolf back an entire packet of chocolate chip cookies or slide into the fridge head first. Don’t beat yourself up about it, but you will see that you’re reacting to circumstances with food.
Enjoy the experience.
There’s a meditation exercise where you’re instructed to spend minutes with a raisin in your mouth, pondering every texture, smell and taste. That’s not necessarily what you need to do when you’re at lunch with friends, but what about taking a moment to savour – to notice all five of your senses and how they’re contributing to this experience, right now? The next time you’re having a snack, try to focus on every single bite and chew slowly rather than wolfing your food back while thinking about something else. You’ll find that as you get used to listening to your body’s needs your glucose and insulin levels will be lower, and in turn you’ll feel calmer and more balanced.
Listen to your body.
Are you hungry? Eat. Are you full? Stop. It seems so simple, and yet when you’re in a rush or distracted, you may not even notice that your body is asking for nourishment until you’re ravenous or, you’re so wrapped up in something else that you’ve long passed the point of satisfaction. That’s when you will overeat. How many times have you skipped breakfast only to devour the entire bread basket when you’re out having lunch?
You might find that weight loss accompanies mindful eating, as you’re more in tune with what makes you feel good and your satiety cues, but it’s not the goal. Rather, what we’re looking for is balance and acceptance.
Food is how we nourish our bodies. We’re lucky that it can be such a fulfilling experience, and yet often we treat it as an interruption. By being in the moment, you can find joy in this simplest human task – and connect with your body and the people around you – perhaps in a way you haven’t since you were a child.
What’s not to love? – throw away the bathroom scales, forget calorie counting and get on with the important business of enjoying life, and loving food.