Do you work 40 hours in one day, come home blinded by exhaustion, and graze on whatever is available even if it’s cold fried chicken, a slice of cheese, a handful of croutons, and the crumbs from what was a plate of brownies? Do you pull up a chair and just eat straight out of the refrigerator? Or are you the rare snowflake who, on a Monday, sets a place at the table, dims the lights, plays soft music, and takes 90 minutes to savor every ounce of a meal so carefully prepared it would rival a champion on Chopped?
Each example seems extreme, right?… The truth is, most of us are somewhere in the middle. We work long hours, shuttle kids around, attend meetings, and then think about what, or if, we are going to eat. The pace at which we live our modern lives is not often conducive to making the best food choices. Eating becomes just another thing on our long “to-do” list. As a result, we eat mindlessly- in a hurry, in front of our computers or TVs, or on the go. The pleasure of eating isn’t in how quickly we can get the food to our bellies, counting calories, or measuring grams of protein, it lies in our ability to slow down and fully experience the meal before us. That pleasure does not have to come at the expense of our time (hours in the kitchen are not necessary). Nor do you need rare, exotic ingredients, a sacred ritual, complete silence or the absence of all stimuli. A shift in your attention and a simple, thoughtfully prepared meal may be all you need. Mindful eating is about presence and awareness.
Here are five steps you can take to eat more mindfully:
Slow down. Even if all you have is 15 minutes for lunch- take it! Will you really be that much further ahead if you inhale a sandwich at your desk? Use the time to eat, not to check your email or your Instagram feed. We are constantly surrounded by distractions that not only reduce our productivity but increase our levels of stress. Give yourself permission to be free of distractions while you are eating.
Instead of counting calories, count your colors. Is the sight of what you have prepared visually appealing? Let color inspire you. Eating a colorful array of food is an easy way to ensure that you are consuming a wide variety of nutrients.
Enhance the smell and taste. Healthy eating doesn’t mean bland eating. Salt and pepper will do the trick but you can take a simple meal from “eh” to “wow” with the right spices and herbs. Borrow from other cultures for bolder flavor profiles or try a new take on an old favorite then take time to notice the simple mind/body phenomenon of your mouth watering. Smell and taste trigger physiological responses that enhance the body’s anticipation of food. Also try including aphrodisiac spices such as cardamom, saffron, ginger, cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg into a meal or dessert!
Touch your food and play with texture. Prepare your food with your hands, not just a microwave. Combine food in interesting ways. One of my favorite salads combines black rice, marinated kale, crisp Green leaf lettuce, and soft roasted sweet potatoes with the crunch of pumpkin seeds.
Focus on how you’re feeling. Do you feel energized or like you need a 3-hour nap after you eat? Did you eat because you were actually hungry or because you were bored? Food is one of the most intimate relationships we have, and as in any relationship, you should feel good about your choices.
Mindfulness can sometimes seem lofty and ethereal but all it really requires is our attention. What one thing can you give your attention to? Maybe you can reduce your distractions at lunchtime or prepare dinner with more colors. Simple adjustments can have a big impact. What adjustments will you be making?
Courtney Huell: Health Coach, Massage Therapist, and Creator of The Root Lady's Goodies. IG: @routewellness