On Mindful Eating, Part II
A couple of months back, I was talking to a friend about mindful eating and he said something that has stuck with me ever since; he said, “Yeah mindful eating is key, but it doesn’t mean shit if you don’t know how to bring awareness and intuition into the act”. Relationships with food are often not clear and concise, they generally are very muddied. This is primarily because our connection with food is not only directly related to our need for calories and energy, but also with our associations with emotions, habit/routine, culture, neurochemicals and celebrations. We have to spend time focusing on bringing the discipline of Mindfulness to the activity of eating, and cultivating an awareness of what is happening in the mind and body, doing a deep dive into what is cues are initiating our want to eat.
Here are a few tools that we can use to unmuddy the muddy waters of our relationship with food:
- Bringing Mindfulness to eating:
- Be an expert–
- Taste, smell, look/notice, feel, and listen to your food- by using your senses you can create pockets of Mindfulness and awareness as you eat. This allows you to be present while you eat, encourages thoughtfulness, and cultivates appreciation for the meal and the act of eating, rather than just consuming. Distractions will come up while this is happening, you may find yourself wanting to rush eating to get to what comes next, or you might find you want to scroll through social media to entertain yourself. Don’t! The benefits of Mindfulness come from the active choice to choose to be mindful. When these distractions come up, acknowledge them, without judgment, and choose to continue your practice of Mindfulness through your senses.
- Slow down–
- The mere act of monitoring the speed at which you eat, will allow you to be more present and bring awareness to what is going on. Digestion starts with the sense of smell, it literally creates saliva and begins the process of getting your gastric juices flowing; if we are eating too fast, we skip this important step which is key for healthy digestion. The more we chew our bites, the more we can taste our food and bring awareness to the complexities of each taste. Not only that, but it will ease digestive strain and complications as well. If you eat too quickly, the food that you consume, will hit your stomach like a ton of bricks- which can lead to stomach distress, pain, bloating, and lack of absorption of key nutrients. Take breaks occasionally and remember to put down the eating utensil of your choice.
- Monitor Outcomes–
- Pay attention to how you feel after consuming certain foods or food groupings; often our body will tell us if something we ate is beneficial to us or not, and will present with digestive distress, a shift in emotions/moods, headaches, joint pain, or even an increase in heartbeat and breathing. These are all important clues that may tell you if you have overeaten, or if something you have eaten does not agree with you (possible allergies, sensitivities, or even neurochemical activations). It allows us to see the vital role nutrition and digestion play in our lives, and if we aren’t practicing awareness to it, we are missing out on very important information. Make sure you track these things in a journal, notepad, or on your phone!
- Be a Detective–
- That’s right, I’m asking you to pick up the mantle of The Batman when it comes to your eating! As you can probably guess, you may forget some of these tools few times you try to bring awareness and Mindfulness to eating. Remember it is a discipline, and as such, it is important to always be inquisitive about your practice so that you can bring awareness to it. Asking questions is the best way to do this. Check in with yourself and see if you ate fast or slow, truly tasted your food or just consumed it? Were you distracted or present? how did you feel before you ate/how are you feeling now? AND JOURNAL YOUR FINDINGS!!! We often think that monitoring, writing, and recording our findings are the same as just thinking about them. However, no matter how strong of a memory you have, the act of actually writing and recording helps you progress towards your goals more efficiently than just notating them in your mind. The main reason being accountability. By journaling you are committing to the practice of monitoring, and hold yourself accountable by having a tangible retelling of your practice. You are able to go back and look at your insights, patterns, and thoughts; using the information to continue building your discipline. Also, if you journal these things, you don’t have to hold on to them constantly in your head, trying to remember each detail. This will allow you to be more present and connect to your intuition more deeply. Building your Mindfulness utility belt as you go!
- Appetite is your guide to Intuition:
- Our bodies will naturally provide clues to us about what we need (i.e. the tastebud science we got into earlier). When we were babies we needed fats, nutrients and sugars; it made us cry out to be fed. If we exercise excessively we may be craving foods that have high levels of iron. If we are low in magnesium we may be hungry for things like dark chocolate or avocados. Eating should be simple- our bodies tell us what we need, we listen, eat what is needed, and go about our day. However, our emotions, lifestyle and Nutritionalism (Big Business getting involved with food trends) can all limit our ability to meet our needs correctly with food.
- If we are eating foods that are more processed, our mind/body may be craving things they don’t need due to the reaction that food has in hijacking our systems. Processed foods are often jam packed with refined sugars, dairy, and simple carbohydrates; things that throw off our body’s natural intuition and guidance system. This isn’t about demonizing food types or people’s eating preferences, it’s okay to eat processed foods in moderation, there should be no shame or guilt related to eating them, and it is healthy to cultivate a balance between eating processed foods and “clean foods”. The point of this article is more about understanding your body’s reactions to the food that you choose. Processed foods are often related to comfort foods, and there is a reason for this. They trick the brain into thinking that they need more of the same food due to an increase of dopamine production (i.e. reward chemicals), serotonin production (i.e. feel good chemical), and/or confusing our body’s intuition into thinking we didn’t consume enough. You’ll start to crave these things because they make you feel good and reward you with those “feel good, comfortable feelings”. Again, in and of itself not a bad thing, but it will start to pull you away from mindful eating, and pull you more towards consuming to control your emotions.
- The good news is, by using these Mindfulness techniques and creating a discipline of mindful awareness in your eating habits, you will be able to begin to sift through what hunger is generative in nature, and what hunger is limiting. Mindfulness will allow us to take a more in-depth look at our triggers and cravings, and where they come from.
- Generative Hunger vs. Limiting Hunger
- The comparison of these two hungers is important to better understand how to bring Mindfulness and awareness to eating. Generative Hunger is what we often call real hunger; meaning that this type of hunger is created out of necessity for sustenance, fuel, energy, calories, and nutrition. This is the base form of hunger that we all start with, even as a young baby, and need to progress through life. We call it generative, because it allows for you to honor your hunger, and move towards a healthy relationship with food. Limiting Hunger is the opposite, often thought of as masked or fake hunger. This is the hunger that is often associated with comfort food, emotional eating, stress eating, and mindless eating. We use the term limiting because if often hampers your ability to build intuitive and mindfulness practices with food, hunger, and eating.
- Generative Hunger-
- Able to deny at times. If you deny for a moment:
- Hunger builds
- Physical sensations arise, not just mental feeling of being hungry- i.e. dizziness, blood sugar regulation, pain in stomach,ect
- No specific craving, hunger can be satiated with a wide variety of food
- When you eat, hunger is satisfied, satiated and gone
- Able to deny at times. If you deny for a moment:
- Limiting Hunger-
- Hard to deny
- Craving specific foods, often comfort foods
- Can be influences by lifestyle, culture, celebrations, and special occasions
- Hunger appears out of nowhere
- Once you eat
- You are still hungry
- You may feel ashamed, guilty, sad, or anxious
If you are able to add these tools to your utility belt, you will be able to build a healthy relationship with food through Mindfulness. It is important to note that these practices take time, discipline and compassion. This is something that can be muddied very quickly, remember to allow yourself some grace and leeway. Change comes with positive emotions and repetition. With time, you will start to experience these “break through moments” that help strengthen your cultivation of awareness and mindfulness. Both of these things are disciplines that we must build in order to strengthen their usefulness. If you are able to bring awareness to what you are doing, temporarily put off hunger to see if it is Limiting or Generative, and are able to get to discover the root cause of what is causing the hunger (emotional, physical, behavioral, social or spiritual), you will be able to build a practice of Mindful Eating.
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