Mindful Eating 101

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Mindfulness is the ability to be as fully present in the moment as possible without wishing or trying to make it different. In our hectic lives, we often function on “autopilot mode,” floating from one activity to another without even thinking about what we are doing, predisposed by and preoccupied with the past which is long gone and/or a future that is not guaranteed. Eating is one of the activities that we usually rush through and often engage in without being aware of what, how, where and why we are eating.

Enter: Mindful Eating – the intentional act of eating, which requires  paying full attention to the experiences of eating and drinking, both inside and outside of the body. This requires being fully aware of and noticing the plentitude of sensations – colours, aromas, flavours, textures, temperatures, and even the sounds – associated with eating and drinking. Furthermore, Mindful Eating requires being conscious of how drinking and eating interact with our minds and our bodies, so as to produce feelings of hunger/satiation/satisfaction etc… Therefore, it is critical to pay attention to how drinking and eating affect our feelings, thoughts and behaviours, as well as, vice versa.

There are many reported benefits of Mindful eating, however I will only touch on a few of the main ones. Firstly, Mindful eating allows us to enjoy the experiences of eating and drinking, which is a pleasure that is natural and should be celebrated at every opportunity and meal. When I was first introduced to Mindful Eating, it not only transformed my eating and drinking experiences (because it felt as if I upgraded to a new sensorial level, which I was likely always privileged to, but which I forfeited by default when I gave into distractions!), but by choosing to be conscious and aware, with regards to my eating and drinking, rather than distracted by watching TV or talking on the phone simultaneously, I was able to regain a sense of control, vis-a-vis my drinking and eating habits, which then contributed further to healthier eating habits (which are almost never driven by emotions, habits or “auto-pilot mode” anymore!).

I will write more about Mindful Eating as soon as I can but for now, here are some:

Mindful Eating Exercises to Get You Started

1 ) Eat a Chocolate Almond Mindfully (or you can choose an equivalent sized food item):

As you begin this exercise, imagine that this is the first time in your life that you have ever encountered a chocolate almond.

Hold the chocolate almond between your index finger and thumb.  Move the chocolate almond between your fingers (careful not to let it melt), exploring its texture. Then close your eyes for 15 seconds and notice any changes you experience in your sense of touch as you continue to move the chocolate almond between your fingers.

Now open your eyes and take time to really look at and focus on the chocolate almond. Explore every part of it as you move it around your fingers, noticing any remarkable characteristics, where the light reflects on it, its rich brown colour etc….

Then bring the chocolate almond 1-2 inches away from under your nose. Take 2-3 deep inhalations and with each inhalation, draw in the aroma of the chocolate almond. Pay attention to anything different that may occur in your mouth or in your stomach as you take in the fragrance.

Now, slowly bring the chocolate almond up to your mouth. Take a moment, be AMAZED at how your hand and arm work together to find exactly how and where to place the chocolate almond, even if/when your eyes are closed! Place the chocolate almond in your mouth, but don’t take a bite yet! Notice the sensations of having it in your mouth, and then explore it with your tongue.

When you’re ready to chew the chocolate almond, take a moment to notice how and where it needs to be positioned in your mouth in order for you to chew it. Take the first bite very consciously and take a moment before the next bite to assess the sensations in your body. Experience the taste that emanates and then continue to chew slowly and notice any sounds. Before you swallow, notice the taste and texture in your mouth and how they have changed over time, as well as physical changes in the chocolate almond as you chewed it. When you are ready to swallow, see if you can detect the intention to swallow when it arises so that you are consciously swallowing the chocolate almond rather. Notice and feel what is left of the chocolate almond as it moves down your throat and then into your stomach. Take a moment to reflect on how your body feels after completing this exercise as well as any thoughts that may have arisen as you completed the exercise in mindful eating.

2) Commit to eating an entire meal alone, in silence without any distractions. Practise the strategies in 1) and then at the end of your meal, reflect on how this experience was similar to and different from the experience you had while eating the meal before the one you ate alone, in silence and without any distractions. If you want, you can read or watch TV but make sure to alternate taking bites mindfully and reading a paragraph/page or watching a few minutes mindfully rather than simultaneously engaging in both activities.

3) At your next family meal, suggest that everyone begin the meal by eating in silence for the first 5-10 minutes. Encourage everyone to acknowledge the meal that is being offered and the efforts required for it to be made available for everyone to enjoy in addition to paying attention to their senses as they consume their food and beverages in silence. You can even debrief what this experience felt like after the designated time period ends or save it for dessert!

Good luck on your practise and please feel free to comment on your experiences below 🙂

 

The “M” Word

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Mindfulness has recently been creeping, front-line-and-centre, onto mainstream magazine, newspaper and blog headlines, and is being featured as the panacea for everything from losing weight, parenting more effectively, having more positive and productive social as well as work-related interactions, eating less, managing anger and getting more restful sleep.

However Mindfulness isn’t a ‘trick’ or a gimmick or even anything new, nor is it something mystical, exclusive to those who are spiritually-inclined. Mindfulness is a  process that any human can undertake and one which requires no physical resources.

But that does NOT mean that Mindfulness is easy, especially if  you have never undertaken such a mental and emotional journey before. In fact, the contrary is true! Nonetheless, the strategies required to cultivate Mindfulness are accessible to most of us and, when we stick with it and practise regularly (like with all things), Mindfulness actually becomes easier.

So, what is Mindfulness? In short, it is the ability to be fully present in the moment without wishing or trying to make it different. We often find ourselves functioning on “autopilot mode,” floating from one activity to another without even thinking about what we are doing, predisposed by and preoccupied with the past which is over and/or a future that has not been guaranteed to us. It is no wonder at all that we often find ourselves feeling stressed, overwhelmed, anxious, depressed and simply exhausted!

Mindfulness practices can help to restore and strengthen the connection between our minds and our bodies, which can further contribute to improved health, functioning and well-being, despite and in spite of everything else that is bound to happen all around us.

Try one of these simple Mindfulness exercises today to get you going 🙂

Mindful Breathing

You can perform this exercise while standing up or sitting down. The goal is to be still and focus on your breath for one minute. Start by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth  (Inhale to a count of 3 and exhale to a count of 3).

Let go of all your thoughts as you do this, including that never-ending list of to-dos. Just let yourself be still for one minute and focus on your breath. When thoughts come up (which they will), acknowledge them and then let them pass, do not dwell on them – this is the key.

Watch your breath renew you with life, as it enters your body and fills your lungs and chest, and then watch this same exuberant energy leave your body and release into the world as your breath releases through your mouth.

Mindful Observation

You can also perform this exercise while standing up or sitting down. The goal of this exercise is to help you connect with your environment, something that we easily miss while rushing around in “auto-pilot mode”.

Choose an object (preferably an organic and natural object from your environment, such as a plant, a tree, an insect, a body of water, you get the point!) and focus on watching it for a minute or two. Try not to focus on anything except noticing this object and being aware of what you are looking at for as long as you can manage to. Allow yourself to be consumed by this object, try to connect with its energy and its role and purpose in your world. Look at it as if you are seeing it for the first time and explore every aspect of its presence.

Food for Thought…

Cultivating Mindfulness can help us to cope better with the thoughts and feelings that cause us distress in our everyday lives. By regularly practising Mindfulness, rather than functioning on “auto-pilot mode” (this state, by the way, is influenced by negative past experiences as well as fears/worries of future possibilities), we can teach our mind to be present in the moment. This not only allows us to appreciate our lives a lot more more than we usually tend to, but it also allows us to deal with life’s challenges in a more calm, clear-minded, patient and assertive way. Before you know it, being present in the moment will become as much of a habit as being distracted used to be and even better yet, you can develop a consciousness that frees you from unhelpful, distorted, self-limiting thought patterns and instead enables you to focus on your positive emotions that increase compassion in ourselves and others.

I’m going to start a new tab for Mindfulness posts on this Blog and will strive to post articles on various themes. If you have any suggestions or questions please feel free to comment below or email me your suggestions 🙂