“Mindful eating is eating with intention, while paying attention”- Kati Konersman
We have all heard the term you are what you eat. Lets take this a little further. You are not only WHAT you eat, but HOW!
Through my work as an integrative nutrition, health coach and yoga teacher I have seen that the missing link in weight loss & weight management is mindful eating.
Life is busy and probably not about to slow down. Between work demands, caring for kids, maintaining a home, traffic jams, keeping up with bills and emails, unless we make a conscious effort to slow down and check in, it just does not happen.
Does this story sound familiar…Wake up 20 minutes late, quickly get yourself ready, fly out of the house with an energy bar & coffee to scarf down on your commute. Arrive to work and find a new project on your desk. Plus an endless stream of emails and phone calls coming in. Grab some take out for lunch, eat it while catching up on emails.
We all have these stories. Rushing from one thing to the next and quickly and unmindfully eating along the way.
According to the latest Global Health Index by Bloomberg, Italians are the world’s healthiest people. Even though their diets are high in many ingredients the average American shuns like pasta, cheese and bread. This just may have something to do with their approach to food. They eat and cook for pleasure and as an art. They take time to enjoy the company they are eating with, savour food, cook from scratch, and give their bodies time to digest.
We all know chronic stress is no good for our health but have you ever thought about how it impacts your digestion, nutrient absorption and weight?
Before we dive into that, let me just say this… Not all stress is bad and actually, research shows that just the right amount of stress is actually critical for performance levels and even happiness. So don’t go thinking stress is all bad. We need it. It is the unmanaged (and maybe even unnoticed) stress that we want to find tools for.
Know your system
A short and simple on your nervous system because knowledge is power.
Your parasympathetic nervous system is your rest, restore and (keyword) digest system. You know, that nice peaceful place you feel after a good yoga class and/or on a relaxing walk with your best friend. When your body is in this state it can focus on all your secondary responses (your wellness systems) like digestion, cell reproduction, immunity, and reproductive health.
When you are in your sympathetic nervous system, your fight and flight or freeze state, your body brilliantly turns off these secondary responses. Focusing on your survival state. All cylinders start to fire to protect you from whatever “threat” you are facing.
Now this highly intelligent system, is just that, a system. Meaning it does not know if you are responding to a stressful email or a rabid dog. You can not be stressed and relaxed at the same time. It is like an on-off switch.
When we are in a state of stress the blood moves away from your digestive track, slows down digestion and therefore decreases our ability to absorb nutrients. Meaning, eat all the kale salad in the world, but eat it under a state of stress and well you are just simply not doing yourself any favors.
Furthermore, research has shown that when eating in a state of stress (when cortisol your stress hormone is present) satisfaction decreases and overeating increases.
So how do we bring our yoga practice to the dinner table? Here are some simple tips to slow down, turn off your nervous system and fully enjoy your meals.
How to Eat Mindfully
- Ask, “What am I really hungry for?”
Food can often be used to fill other cravings. When eating between meals or looking to satisfy a food craving, get in the habit of asking yourself this very question. Are you craving some movement, connection, a break from your busy day or simply some water? Check in and get clear with the messages your body is sending you.
- Turn Off Distractions
Put the phone down, turn off the TV, get away from the computer and even stop reading while eating. Be fully present with your meals so you can practice the rest of the tips.
Now, I know you can’t do this every meal and there will be meals you have to work through. In that case give yourself the first 5-10 minutes work free and connect with your body & food.
- Take a Breathe
Make it a habit to take at least 1-5 deep, low belly breathes before diving into your meals. Do this with the intention of turning off your nervous system and being present.
- Use Your Five Senses
Give yourself the opportunity to fully experience your food by using all 5 senses. Look at the beautiful colors, sip in the smells, touch the different textures, savor the taste, and listen to the sounds. Use the experience of eating to practice presence.
Digestion actually begins in the mouth. As you chew digestive enzymes in the saliva start to break down food, preparing for absorption. Want to maximize absorption and digestion, chew, chew and chew! This will also impact the amount you eat.
- Breathe Then Bite
Let your mind catch up with your digestive track. Put your fork down between bites and take at least one full breath. This will naturally support you in eating the right amount and fully digesting and absorbing your food.
- Practice Gratitude
Watch out, gratitude is the gateway drug to happiness. Take a moment to think about how your food got to your plate and all the hard work that went into that process. What a gift! When connecting to the origin of our food and the hard work that goes into it we will naturally slow down, eat less and eat better.
What would change for you if you ate mindfully?
Allow each meal to be a joyful experience. Transform your relationship to food and weight through mindful eating. Bon Appétit
Sarah Klein, owner of Whole Health Lab and co-founder of the 30-day Clean Living Challenge lives in the southwest corner of Colorado and enjoys spending her time in the mountains, on her yoga mat and in the kitchen.
With a background in health psychology, integrative nutrition, yoga and human development she believes that health extends much further than what is on our plate. True health is a balanced recipe of consistent exercise, clean, whole foods, positive thoughts, healthy relationships and meaningful work.Check out her free 7-day clean living challenge (with full meal plan!) for a tasty and fun reboot!