We’re a generation of go-getters, always striving for faster, better and stronger. Without taking breaks, not even when it's time to eat. And that's a big problem. Digestion is a complex process that requires communication between the gut and the nervous system, and it can take up to 20 minutes before the brain realises "I'm full". Consequently, eating too quickly can lead to overeating and stress your digestive system.
Un-mindful eating eventually leads to unhealthy eating habits and "self-medicating" with comfort foods. Mindfulness might sound like a hippie concept to some, but it’s really just about being present. It’s easy to be on auto-pilot and go about our day-to-day lives without really living. Mindfulness is about paying attention to what you’re doing and soaking up every moment, rather than letting your mind race ahead, worrying about the next thing you’re going to do.
The same things apply to food. You can eat all the kale in the world, but if you are doing it unconsciously without acknowledging the foods healing power and thanking yourself for nourishing your body, you will not thrive off the food. As much as it is about what you eat, it is also about how you prepare the food and eat.
When you’re shopping, pick ingredients you really want to cook with; touch them and smell them. When you’re cooking, notice the textures and the colours. Try to really focus on each individual task. To me, cooking is almost like a meditative practice (admittedly, when I'm trying new recipes and I'm short on time this isn't the case..). I believe that food is here to nourish us and to share with the people we love. So try putting some loving energy into the preparation of your meals. In fact, in meditative communities, the person with the best meditation skills has the "privilege" of being the chef in the believe that he will transfer the most positive vibes into the food.
When it’s time to eat, turn off the TV and sit at the table. Try chewing slowly and for as long as possible. At the Institute for Integrative Nutrition we are taught to chew between 20-50 times. While this might seem extreme to some, just try to eat as slowly as you can. This not only enhances the experience but also aids digestion and the body’s absorption of nutrients. Put your fork down after every bite and take the time to appreciate the food. You will notice that you are satisfied faster because your brain has time to process the meal.
When you become more mindful it really can change the way you eat and the way you experience life in general. For something so simple, the benefits can be pretty amazing.
During my stay here in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I've really walked the talk and have been spending a lot of time shopping at the local food markets, being open-minded about new ingredients and appreciating the beauty of the food itself.
Whenever you notice yourself eating mindless, come back to this list and remember these simple grounding practises:
Grocery shopping & cooking
- Enjoy the shopping process by going to local farmer markets, buying seasonal and experimenting with new ingredients.
- Before you start cooking, take a moment to thank yourself for creating a nourishing dish for yourself, your family or friends.
- Have some calming music running in the background and focus solely on the washing, chopping and cooking.
- If you tend to snack on things while cooking and don't feel hungry anymore by meal time, try chewing on gum while preparing the food.
- Take a moment of appreciation before you dig in.
- Eat without a TV, phone, computer or newspaper.
- Sit down while you eat.
- Chew slowly and savour every bite. You should take at least 20 minutes.
- Don't eat out of the jar/box/pot, but always put the proper portion size of food on your plate and arrange it nicely to make it pleasing to the eye.
- If you really are struggling to control the pace of your meal, try eating with chopsticks for a while or use your non-dominant hand.
And remember: You are not obliged to empty your plate. If you are full, you can always keep the leftovers for the next day. I'd also recommend eating until you are about 80% full, then wait and see. If you still crave more, you can always get another serving. This way you avoid overeating and only noticing when it is too late.
I can't remember who it was (I think Melissa Ambrosini?), but I once heard the tip of consciously closing your kitchen after eating/cleaning up. As if it say: "Sorry, we are closed. Please come back tomorrow during opening hours." I think that's a wonderful idea. Often we return to the kitchen late at night to snack on food while watching a movie or because we still have lots of unpleasant tasks to fulfil. Close the kitchen, and honour your word.
P.S.: If you liked #lessonsfromrecovery: Cooking and Eating Consciously, check out #lessonsfromrecovery: Weights vs. Cardio