Mindfulness is such a buzz word these days, but what is it really? Simply put, Mindfulness is the practice of being intentionally aware of your thoughts, feelings, environment, and bodily sensations in the present moment, without judgement.
Many associate mindfulness with sitting quietly in meditation, but mindfulness can be especially valuable when practiced during regular day-to-day activities, like eating! The Center for Mindful Eating defines mindful eating as, “Allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom.” We love this definition because mindful eating really does provide an opportunity to develop a more intimate and fulfilling relationship with food.
Being Aware of Your Desires
Before you begin your mindful eating practice, it’s helpful to bring your attention to your desires. If you think about it, cravings fuel our every action, whether we are trying to acquire something or avoid something. We have all experienced that inner voice that so seductively convinces us to eat certain foods because “You deserve it” or “You’ve earned this”, and while it may feel true, responding mindlessly to this voice may not bring the fulfillment you thought it would. Becoming aware of this inner voice allows you to catch yourself in the act, have more autonomy over your inner dialogue and develop a more positive relationship with food and with your body.
Sometimes you may decide to go ahead and “indulge” because it’s worth it — when you do, enjoy it fully, and remind yourself that feeling guilty doesn’t serve you. There’s something to be said for having some Vitamin P (P for “pleasure”) in our lives. At other times, you may decide that, no, that brownie isn’t going to make you feel better, and you’ll choose something that will (a healthier food, a walk, a hug, etc.). By bringing our underlying desires and cravings into our awareness, we stop them from mindlessly making our food decisions for us.
With all of this in mind, you can begin to apply mindfulness to the way you eat, at each stage of the process.
Stage 1: Intentional Purchasing
Before you head to the grocery store, spend some time going through your pantry and fridge to make space for healthier options. Take everything out and look at each item before returning the items that are aligned with your health goals. Being aware of what is actually in your pantry and fridge is important because we tend to eat what’s there and convenient. This way, you’ll be able to build a grocery list based on what you already have, and you can start to organize your kitchen space so that it serves you better.
As you do this, think big-picture and ask yourself, “What kind of products am I purchasing and supporting? Am I unconsciously letting my desires decide for me? Where is my food coming from?” Shopping locally can be so rewarding knowing that your money is staying in the local community, but this is a privilege that not everyone can access or afford, so do what works for you.
While shopping, take some time to examine product labels. Is it organic, pasture-raised, antibiotic, GMO and hormone free? Do you recognize all the ingredients? Do your foods contain additives and preservatives or are the ingredients as close as possible to how nature provides them? These are all great questions to consider.
Fortunately most of our bodies are resilient enough that we don’t have to be 100% “perfect”. Every food you buy does not have to be organic and fresh from the local farmer’s market, because it’s what you choose most of the time that really adds up.
Stage 2: Mindful Cooking & Eating
Before you start cooking, draw your attention and senses to the foods you are preparing. How do they look, feel, smell, taste and even sound?! Take a moment to really observe your food. Begin to notice how hungry you are feeling at that moment. Check in to make sure food is what you’re really wanting and needing, or if you may need water or emotional comfort instead. Also notice the environment that surrounds you while preparing your food because a positive space can greatly influence your mood and appetite. Try playing some of your favorite music, or cooking with a friend, housemate, or significant other. Food is more than its nutritional value, it can bring people together and create community.
After you have prepared your food and are getting ready to eat, take a moment or two to find gratitude. Thank the food for its nourishment and thank yourself for making the effort to take care of your body. You can also take a moment to think about everything that had to happen to get this food to your table. For example, if you are about to eat a delicious strawberry, someone had to prep the soil, start it from seed, and then care for the plants until the fruit was ready to be picked, packaged and transported to the grocery stores. We are so disconnected from the food production process that it’s easy to forget all the effort and people involved in getting our food in front of us. It’s pretty amazing to think about.
Lastly, instead of multitasking while you eat, close your laptop, put your phone down, and give yourself the space to be present and experience your meal fully. Bring your attention to how your food tastes, how it feels in your mouth, how it smells and looks. Thinking about what you are eating stimulates digestion, and allowing yourself to slow down makes it easier to notice satiety cues (your body’s signal that you are full).
Stage 3: Tuning Into Your Body’s Feedback
If there is one key message to take away from this article, this is it: Listen to your body! Tuning into your body’s feedback signals after eating, and being able to notice what foods make you feel good and what foods don’t, is an incredible way to gain more direct control over your health. Our bodies are constantly talking to us, we just have to practice listening. In this way, instead of relying on external influences to tell us what to eat, we learn to trust our innate wisdom to nourish our bodies. This is incredibly empowering in giving us the confidence to know — really know — that what we eat matters, and that we can have such a significant impact on how we feel.
To get the hang of this, some people find it helpful to use a food journal to keep track of what they eat and how they feel in response. Food journaling encourages you to pay attention to the small details, like what you are eating, how much, when, where, and how you feel before and after the meal — or the next day — there is such a thing as a food hangover! This can also help bring your awareness to certain patterns or habits you’d like to change and give you the opportunity to reflect. Committing to food journaling, at least at first, forces a level of mindfulness that may not come naturally.
Some Final Thoughts
Remember, the key here is being present inside yourself — being mindful — making conscious food choices and being in touch with how they make you feel. It is next to impossible to do this and not step on the path toward healthier eating.
Mindfulness is so often overlooked when people set out to make changes to their eating habits in the name of better health. Learning to be present with the foods you eat — from shopping, to preparing, to eating, to observing how you feel — is an internal shift that puts you in the driver’s seat. Armed with this perspective you are almost guaranteed to propel yourself forward on the road to excellent health!
Would you like more support around mindful eating and nutrition? Do you suspect that food might be contributing to your health issues or hormonal symptoms? We warmly invite you to schedule a complimentary “Vitality Discovery Call” so we can get to know you and help you figure out your best next steps from here.
by Madailein Connick-Stokeld, BA
with support from Lauren Picciani, MA, NC
- The Center for Mindful Eating – free books and podcasts on mindful eating
- In our online community, The Women’s Vitality Club, we took a deep dive into Healthy Eating this month… join the Club at http://club.womensvitalitycenter.com/
- For a list of more natural alternatives for convenience foods, check out this handout