December 3, 2012

Mindful Eating

Did everybody have a great Thanksgiving?  Mine was filled with food, family and lovely Florida sun.

In the holiday spirit of giving, I want to share something super personal in this post.  This Thanksgiving was very different for me as it was the first time I really tried something new with my eating – something I preach and felt I practice quite a bit but never really was.

It’s the concept of “mindful eating”.

After several years as a health coach, I now FINALLY understand what mindful eating is all about.

Before now:
–  I believed in slowing down and enjoying food.
–  I taught the importance of shutting off distractions and focusing on your plate.
–  I practiced breathing and chewing and checking in with when I thought I was full.

But I never really GOT these concepts.

Until now.

A few weeks ago, I attended a week-long nutrition workshop at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts.  I went to deepen my wellness knowledge, refine the tips and tools of my coaching practice, and complete some continuing education.

During one session, we engaged in a mindful eating exercise.   I spent 20 minutes sitting with a single almond in my hand, looking at it, thinking about what it is and where it came from and eventually eating it, with the hope of realizing what it means to really taste and experience food again.  I smelled the almond.  I looked at it.  I marveled at its beauty (stare at one today, you’ll see what I mean), and then I tasted it.  I noted how creamy it was, how sweet it was (I never noticed almonds were sweet before) and how it felt, with only two almonds in my cup, like I had SO MUCH.

Later, we practiced mindful eating at meal time – eating without distractions, sometimes eating in silence and journaling (not just writing) what we ate, how full (or no longer hungry) we were and how our bodies responded to the food.  .

My experience with mindful eating at Kripalu was a major eye opener.  It taught me how to be happy and satisfied with so much less. Now, when I practice mindful eating just a half of a sweet potato, for example, can be fulfilling and so absolutely delicious.

Since my time at Kripalu, I’ve adopted a few personal rules that have totally changed the way I eat:

1. Eat with zero distractions.  No compromises.  No exceptions (except Sunday night when Homeland is on lol).  I used to eat my lunch at my computer while reading my favorite blogs and websites.  Forty minutes would go by, my bowl would be empty and I would be thinking, “what’s next?”, as if I had yet to eat anything (even though it was all healthy and good for me).  Now, I remove all distractions – phone, computer, reading material, TV.  I look at my plate and I chew each bite ‘til liquid.  And let me tell you, a lot of my meals are really f-ing boring.  I’m bored to tears a lot of the time, but I’m learning when I’m no longer hungry, to stop when I’ve had enough, and feel like I truly enjoyed and savored every bite.  Half the time, I don’t want more food simply because I don’t want to sit with my plate any longer.  Maybe, I’ll eventually be less bored with my meals (believe me I can’t welcome it soon enough), but my digestive system has been kick ass, I’ve been feeling great and energized and well, getting rid of the “I should be eating less food” dance I’ve done in my head for years is worth any and every silent, slow, quiet and delicious meal.

2.  Aim to be no longer hungry instead of full.  This is a biggie.  I like to think of making salad dressing in a jam jar.  You need some room at the top of that jar to shake the liquid around and allow everything to emulsify.  Well, your stomach is kind of the same.  It needs room to do it’s digestive work, allowing all those healthy juices to break everything down, deliver the nutrients you need to your organs and get rid of the rest.  This principle can take some time to adopt.  I’ve found that it’s helpful at first to serve myself a smaller portion on a smaller plate with smaller silverware.  I’ll eat slowly with no distractions (back to #1), and then I can hear that little, “you’re all set!” voice much louder than before, at which point I know I’m no longer hungry, and the meal is up.

3. Snack less.  I now focus on reveling in the “sacred space” between meals and allowing myself to be completely hungry before coming up for more.  Being hungry is a natural thing.  We’re taught that hunger is “bad”, something to be avoided at all costs.  Now mind you, snacking absolutely has its place and is a very real part of my life and my clients lives (and smaller more frequent meals work brilliantly for some), but I think it would serve everyone to see how you’re fueling at your actual meals.  See if you’re eating too much or not enough.  You should be able to go 3-4 hours before your next meal.  Also, think you have digestive issues?  Try eliminating snacking first and see if that helps clear up the problem.  When you give your system a chance to fully digest what you’ve eaten before you eat more, it will be a lot less bogged down (imagine a car that is always running or a computer that never gets rebooted).

There are more guidelines to develop, but this is what I’m working on right now.

Now I want to hear from you.  How do you feel about “mindful eating”?  Do any of my new rules scare the sh*t out of you?

Let me know in the comments section below!

If you’re eager to hear more about mindful eating and think it might be the very thing missing in your life, schedule a breakthrough session with me.  I’m accepting new clients beginning in January and I’d love to add you to the wait list.

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