Health & Wellness Author
Master of Education (M.Ed.)
You just got a solid eight hours of sleep; you love your new morning routine with your warm coffee and new ceramic mug, and the weather has finally cooled down to your favorite fall temperature and you can start the fireplace, yes!
Do you ever feel like you’re 100% in the flow of life?
Everything feels a lot lighter because your patterns of behavior are much more habitual. You feel like you’re eating well, you’re getting more steps and/or exercise than usual, your performance at work is at an all-time peak, you’re drinking more water, you’re tasking more efficiently, and you’re generally being more productive and leading a healthier life physically, emotionally, and spiritually. How great does it feel to YOU when you feel like you’re genuinely “firing on all cylinders” as I like to call it?
Cue Paramore’s, “Ain’t it fun, living in the real world?”
Are You Acting On Life, or Is It Acting On You?
Life tends to mirror a tennis match. Sometimes the ball is in your court, and sometimes it’s not; but you must remain mindful that it’s essential to make proactive choices day in and day out, keeping your list of short term and long-term goals close by, to ensure the ball bounces back in your court in time for you to act.
We can also observe a pendulum and make a lot of analogies about the habits (both healthy and unhealthy) that are ingrained in our brains, and our perspectives about resiliency and will.
We all know what the flipside to feeling on top of the world feels like. What goes up must come down, right? Sigh. This doesn’t have to be a dismal metaphor though. Really, our interpretation about different situations carries the weight. If you are willing to let the pendulum swing in its natural essence, your anxiety associated with being on the less desired side is less likely to spike.
About Stress, Eating & The Autopilot Mode
Habits are defined in psychology as, “actions that are triggered automatically in response to contextual cues that have been associated with their performance”.
You exercise habitual behaviors all the time including; washing your hands before eating, washing your body after your hair, putting on your seatbelt before you start your car, etc. All of these habits allow your brain more mental space for other larger events because of the automation of common tasks.
When life gets more chaotic than usual, work starts to pile up on your desk, you add something to your morning routine, but don’t account for the additional time, and now you’re running late to work, we start to feel stressed and crunched on time.
Stress and time management generally run together, as we often over schedule ourselves and under prioritize our most important tasks, which leads us to run on autopilot and pushes our brains into survival mode.
How Autopilot Mode Affects Our Eating
Let me set the stage for you…
You’re in your classroom teaching all morning, your lesson plans are due during your only planning period, you have to go to the bathroom before your students come back, and you try to text your significant other back and make a call to make a dentist appointment, all before lunchtime strikes.
You have been stretched thin all week and haven’t had the chance to grocery shop or even wash your hair the last several days, so you resort again to going through the drive thru and ordering the easiest and quickest thing to consume, a burger and fries.
Your inner self talk is negative and you internally have regret that you should be eating a salad and vegetables, and MUCH less carbs and fried foods but… YOU ARE STARVING AND DON’T HAVE TIME to go down this rabbit hole right now.
You have students who are coming back from recess any moment. It’s go time, again! Sigh. You stuff as much food as you can in your mouth before whipping back into that school parking lot. You take a deep breath and prepare for the final push of the workday…”
Cue evidence based research on mindful eating and what it means to approach your nutrition in a more mindful and fully aware way.
Mindful Eating vs. Diet Trends
Mindful eating is a rather new approach and runs perpendicular to the diet craze that has consumed American society over the last several decades. Rather than depending on a “magical pill” or a cosmetic quick fix that allows you to binge on the same unhealthy foods you have been consuming, a wrap that tightens existing belly fat, or the increasingly popular method of cryotherapy, which drops your bodies temperature in order to speed up metabolism and make the body work harder to keep warm, mindful eating focuses on intentionality.
The difference between mindful eating and other diet and exercise plans is that it is not about rules or guidelines, as many think when they hear the term in conversation. Rather, it is about the individual experience that each person has with his or her complex relationships with food. No one has the same cravings, aversions, allergies, or recipes with the same foods, which creates for a vast amount of literature in the nutrition realm.
Mindful Eating Exercise
The idea to have mindfulness is for people to have their own experiences with food and to be fully present while having them. To slow our brains down in order to be effective in this approach it’s important to focus on all five of our senses while eating: taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight. A famous raisin experiment illustrates this here, under “Practicing Mindful Eating”.
- What does your food look like?
- What do you anticipate it’s going to taste like?
- Does it smell like it looks? Does the smell urge you to keep eating, or does it turn you off?
- When you chew your food, what does it sound like? Is it crunchy? Is it soft enough you don’t even have to chew?
Developing mindfulness in different arenas in your life can be strengthened through daily meditations (using moment-to-moment awareness), yoga, body scanning, noticing your breathing patterns during your day to develop a higher level of awareness of self, and practicing mindful eating several times a week.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is process oriented, and requires changes in your typical eating behaviors. Those that have mastered mindful eating, throw conventional rules out the window and focus on what their body needs by listening inwards. Problems that mindful eating solves includes distracted overeating, emotional eating, stress eating, improper chewing, selection of unhealthy foods, binge eating, and much more.
Can Mindful Eating Help You Lose Weight?
If weight loss will assist you in living more fully, that is FINE; the problem arises when people get so preoccupied with the sole goal of losing weight (with no emphasis on muscle mass, healthy selection of different foods, eating patterns, etc.) that you lose sight of your intentions to lead a healthier lifestyle, which includes being more present and involved in your own life. You only have one life to live! We have to start making baby steps today in the direction you see your life and health going.
Mindful eating strives to take automaticity out of eating, and challenges you to look closer into the foods you eat.
- What elements were required to grow your food?
- Was there sun and soil involved, or did a factory genetically process the food you are consuming?
Mindful eating takes the pressure off of counting points, ordering shakes and pre-made meals, and erases the expectations of a particular outcome: i.e.: inches off your waist, hips, thighs, glutes, or pounds lost, new sizes of clothing, etc. It aims to strengthen your bond with eating in a more holistic way.
Developing Mindful Eating Habits Techniques
Some of the attitudes associated with mindful eating and living more consciously include:
Setting aside our previous experience with a food can be very challenging. Being aware of our judgments with different foods is a critical element of mindfulness.
Living in a fast paced society where our expectations for time management, family demands, and work pressures are at an all time high; patience is a virtue and mindful eating and living take a more understood approach to patience and what it means to be present and aware in the moment. Rather than throwing a handful of raisins, M&Ms, chips, etc. in your mouth; it’s about letting the experience unfold slowly, savoring each bite, rather than quickly trying to satisfy your hunger. It is easier to have more patience with fewer distractions. One of our biggest setbacks right now is having our phones in our hands or having the TV on, which creates a mind numbing sensation, causing you to be less aware of the situation at hand and cause us to eat more and to ingest more quickly
Approaching food experiences like a baby or small child does, with awe and wonder, allows us to experience new and familiar foods in the here and now.
When we learn to trust our interactions with food and our choices, it becomes more enjoyable to eat foods when we are being mindful of our selections.
This is the quality that differs the most from most diet minded approaches, where the main goal is to lose weight, count calories, or any other quantitative measure. There is no pressure or expected outcome when eating mindfully, although weight loss is typically experienced and weight is more likely to be kept off with a conscious change of behavior in the way we eat.
We must accept whatever comes up in the moment when we are practicing mindful eating. We have to be fully present and accept the colorful food that consumes are plates
Letting go of the toxic relationships we have with unhealthy foods has to come from examining what the foods do for your overall well-being and letting go of foods that don’t make you feel better.
Tips to Help You in Your Journey Towards Mindful Eating
Before You Eat
Put away your phone, your work, your book, any distraction that will allow for mindless eating patterns. Make sure that eating is the only thing you are doing.
Assess your emotions
Are you physically hungry or are you just bored and looking for something to fill the void in your time? Are you lonely? Are you looking towards food to satisfy another need you are having? Think about what you might need to help you and ensure that food is what your body, mind, and soul needs.
During Mindful Eating
Express gratitude to your food!
- Appreciate the long process of what it took to grow the food you are about to consume, prepare it, and make it accessible for you to purchase. When we express gratitude for the things we have, we become more aware of the abundance around us.
- Savor each bite and take the time to recognize all the sensations you get from eating or drinking a new food. Be descriptive with the language you use.
- Use a timer and giving yourself breaks while eating. This allows your brain to catch up with your stomach and decide if you are still hungry. Ask yourself questions like, “Have I had enough?”, “Is it time to stop?”, or “Am I still hungry or are am I just eating as a time filler?”
When Not Eating
- Keep up with your water consumption. You should strive to drink your weight divided by two in ounces of water.
- Use a journal to assess your eating journey. Write down tips and tricks that helped you stay on track for the week and add to your journal daily.
Mindful Eating is Not About Perfection
Forgive yourself for slipping up and eating more or faster than you would have liked. Even if you fall off the train, have the audacity to get back on! One night of poor eating doesn’t mean you are back to square one. Thank yourself for your realization that you didn’t eat in the manner you would have liked to, and practice harder the next time.
You Are in Control of Your Relationship With Food
Mindfulness challenges you to be aware of your choices and controlling your own experiences. When it comes to mindfulness on all levels, you have to decide when you’re going to practice it and MAKE it happen!