Everyone seems to know what foods provide optimal nutrition. We all know to eat more vegetables and less dessert. We get that we should have more fiber and less fat. Many people understand that a variety of protein sources found in beans, nuts, seeds, and meat — if you aren’t a vegetarian — is essential to satiate hunger and build muscle.
Physicians warn too much sugar can lead to diabetes and yet diabetes is on the rise. Nutritionists point out that a high salt diet contributes to hypertension and, still, blood pressures continue to stagger out of control. Nurses educate patients that eating excess saturated fats, like those found in butter or egg yolks can cause high cholesterol, but heart disease still devastates millions worldwide.
Knowing what to eat doesn’t cut it. And, while we know what not to eat, we are still sick and overweight. So, clearly, knowing isn’t enough. Maybe we have to change the way we eat.
Dietary recommendations from health professionals should not be disregarded, however, another person’s input is helpful only when we understand why we eat the way we eat. When was the last time you asked yourself questions like: What does healthy eating mean to me? How do my emotions affect what and when I eat? Does what I eat affect how I feel? Find a private place to write and explore your answers.
Here, our mindfulness practice extends to eating. Learning to eat mindfully is a skill that engages all five senses.
It begins with creating an environment that promotes mindfulness. We don’t want to eat while on the phone, in front of the television, or standing up. Honor meal times as a space to nourish and replenish yourself.
Before eating, look at the food’s texture and color… smell its aroma… feel your mouth water… hear your stomach grumble. Think about where this food comes from and how it came to be on your plate. Who harvested it? Sold it? Prepared it?
Place a small bite in your mouth and really taste it. Close your eyes and notice what happens as you chew. See if there is there an immediate urge to swallow and move on to the next bite. Can you be with this mouthful of food right now and relish each and every flavor? Take your time.
As you swallow, feel your stomach receive the food. Do you feel just a bit fuller? Can you repeat this process for every bite of the meal? Feel the gradual filling of your stomach until your appetite is satisfied. You may find you eat less and don’t feel as tired after the meal.
Practicing mindful eating can help you make better food choices, improve your digestion, and discover how certain foods make you feel. Over time, you will naturally stop consuming foods that are unhealthy because it becomes too hard to choose poorly when you are mindfully observing what, how, and why they eat. You have found a new way.
Chew on that.
Billy Rosa is a Registered Nurse, Integrative Nurse Coach