Eating – Some of us enjoy it looking for the greatest combination of ingredients to tantalize our taste buds, while others wish there was a food pill to just get it over with. Sometimes we can eat too much food out of stress or habit and at other times we have periods of eating well, being mindful of our food habits and caring about the body. No matter what your relationship to food, everyone has to eat. The question I continue to come back to again and again is how can we develop a more mindful relationship to food in order to cultivate better eating habits? My friend and mindful colleague Beth Mulligan who is founder of The Mindful Way has been working on this for years and enlightens us with an answer today.
Beth is also teaching an 8-week series on Mindful Eating for Vibrant Living at InsightLA in Los Angeles starting September 23rd.
Elisha: How does Mindful Eating help us create better eating habits?
Beth: Mindful Eating helps us make better choices on several levels, physical, emotional and mental. First I’ll address this on the physical level; Like all mindfulness based interventions, there is a foundational practice of awareness of the body- which we practice in a friendly, curious, non-judgmental way. We practice noticing how our body feels in the present moment with something that seems basic, like, “Am I hungry?” and “Am I full?” You’d be surprised how difficult it is for many people to answer that question. However this information is crucial in making decisions about eating.
Another physical aspect is we slow the process of eating down, trying to include some moments when we are eating and not doing anything else. We look at the shapes and colors, smell the food, taste it, and practice the fine lost art of chewing (an important part of digestion that we do very little of when we are eating in front of the television or computer.) We might reflect on where the food came from what went into growing it, and how many labors of other human beings went into bringing it before us. Participants are invited to pause occasionally before, during and after a meal or snack. One participant came back to class after one week and said “Doritos only taste good if you eat them really fast.”
When you pause after you’ve eaten something unhealthy, you might notice how your body actually feels; perhaps bloated, tired, or nauseated. Emotionally, you might notice regret, guilt, and even sadness that you’ve let yourself down again. After a while of practicing slowing the process down, people are able to ask themselves before they make the unhealthy choice; “How am I going to feel afterwards?” and then often make a different choice. The same process works when you make a healthy choice, you pause and notice, “Wow this really feels good in my body!” Which means you will be more likely to make that choice again.
So much of our eating behavior is habitual and automatic, that many people are surprised to discover – when they bring awareness to eating and slow it down -they aren’t even enjoying the foods that they were convinced gave them comfort and relief from stress.
Another way mindfulness helps us make better choices is on the emotional level. I know you often quote Victor Frankl “Between Stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. “ Mindfulness practices help us put in that space. This is extremely helpful in making food choices. We get a space between the thought; “I want that bag of cookies” and the actual behavior of eating it. We get a chance to consider what would really serve our physical and emotional health best in that moment.
What we know from the neuroscience on mindfulness meditation is; regular practice literally strengthens the part of the brain that sees options and makes decisions that are from the higher functions of the brain rather than the reactive parts.
Mindful Eating gives people new tools to deal with difficult emotions and stress, so they are less likely to turn to unhealthy foods and more likely to take care of themselves in a deeper more satisfying and skillful way. Then food becomes what is meant to be, a pleasurable way to fuel and nourish the amazing vehicle of the body we live in.
Elisha: Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us Beth.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.