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We’re in unusual times. It’s so important to be mindful and focus more on health than ever before. Stress can lead to poor eating habits and weight gain. It’s no secret that many people turn to food during times of high anxiety. This can result in overeating and poor food choices.
Food can be enjoyable and a promoter of good health at the same time.
The idea of mindfulness has been circulating for thousands of years but has only become a popular topic in the Western world recently. What is mindfulness? It’s simply using your attention in an intentional way.
If you’re awake, your attention is on something. It might be a TV show, something outside your window, your thoughts, your dog, the pain in your foot, the temperature of the room, or folding your laundry.
You can’t help but have your attention on something. Even when you’re meditating, you’re focused on something.
However, if you’re having a conversation, but thinking about your weekend plans, you’re not being mindful. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment. So, if you’re having a conversation, you’re paying attention to the conversation. You’re also noticing when your attention wanders.
What does mindfulness have to do with eating? Everything.
Consider these as a way to learn more about your relationship with food and how mindful eating can benefit you:
What is Mindful Eating?
We will define mindful eating and describe the numerous benefits that it provides.
Discovering Your Eating Cycle
You’ve probably never thought about what, when, where, why, and how you eat. But you’ll be an expert on your habits and relationship with food by the completion of this chapter.
Stress changes your eating patterns, but do you know why? You will. You’ll also know how to avoid making poor eating decisions during the stressful times we’re experiencing.
Food and Mood: Food affects your mood
You’ll learn about nutritional psychiatry and how you can investigate how the foods in your diet affect your mind and body.
Process for Eating Mindfully:
Putting all the information together. You’ll have a basic outline to adapt as you see fit. You’ll also be introduced to some ideas for actually making mindful eating a part of your life.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is simply eating with your full awareness on your food and the entire eating process.
Most people sit down for a meal and mindlessly fills themselves up. They often overeat because they aren’t paying attention to whether they’re full or not. They eat unhealthy food because they haven’t given serious thought to the nutritional value of their meal they’re about to eat.
Their mind isn’t on their meal. They’re thinking about the bills that need to be paid. They might be watching TV. They might even be driving down the road while eating a meal.
This is the exact opposite of mindful eating.
Mindful eating has several components:
Ask yourself before you start eating, “Am I hungry?” If you’re not hungry and you’re not planning on climbing a mountain later that day, you’re probably better off not eating. Your body is very adept at telling you when it requires more food. Consider these questions:
• If you are hungry, how hungry are you?
• Should you be hungry based on your recent eating activity?
• How much food do you think it will take to satisfy you?
• What are you hungry for? Is that a healthy option?
Before eating anything, think about the nutritional value of that food. Roughly how many calories is it? Is it a food high in carbohydrates? Is it high in fat? Does it contain a lot of vitamins and minerals, or is it basically junk food?
• What are your current goals regarding your health and body weight? Does this food help you to achieve those goals, or will it move you in the opposite direction?
Project into the future
Most people only consider how food is going to make them feel while they’re eating it. They fail to consider how they will feel physically and emotionally after the act of eating has concluded.
• Before you eat something, ask yourself how you’ll feel immediately afterwards, and how you’ll feel an hour or two later.
What does the food look like? What color is it? Is it appealing? How is the food arranged on the plate? Based on the appearance, how do you anticipate the food will taste and feel in your mouth?
What do you smell? Can you smell the spices used in the food? How do you anticipate the food will taste based on the smell? Can you tell how hot the food is by bringing it close to your nose?
It’s time to finally taste your food. Feel your jaw moving. Notice how your tongue is involved in the eating process.
• Take your time and chew your food thoroughly. Depending on what you’re eating this might require quite a bit more time than you’re used to. It’s a lot easier on your body to digest food that’s been chewed very thoroughly.
• Notice the flavor of the food. Describe the taste to yourself.
What does the food feel like in your mouth? Is it crunchy? Hot? Cold? Slimy? Soft? Describe the texture to yourself. Pay attention to the texture after you’re done chewing and about to swallow. What does your food feel like now?
The effect on your mind and body. Foods can affect your mood and your body.
• For example, most people find the taste of chocolate to be very soothing. Hot, spicy foods can be invigorating and make you sweat. You might find that foods containing gluten make you feel bad mentally and/or physically. Maybe you feel guilty about eating animal products.
• Notice the effects that your meal has on your mind and body during and after the meal. Pay attention for two hours after the meal and rate how you feel.
Are you paying attention to the overall eating process? Or is your mind somewhere else? Are you having a lively debate at the dinner table? Are you watching a movie in the background? Listening to music? Playing a game? Worrying about your finances? Thinking about work?
• If you’re eating mindfully, you’re not thinking about, or paying attention to, anything outside of the meal.
• This doesn’t mean it’s necessary to ignore your family during a meal but keep the distractions to a minimum and focus on your meal. You can chat more or play a game afterwards.
• No phones, radios, TVs, tablets, computers, books, or games while you’re eating.
Mindful eating is putting your full awareness on the eating experience. It goes beyond the items listed above. It also includes understanding your eating habits, evaluating hunger, choosing the right foods for you, eating the proper amounts, and being fully engaged with the eating process while you’re eating.
The Benefits of Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is a powerful process that delivers significant results to your health, life experience, and psychology. Eating is the most important input you have to influence your body. When you become an expert at eating, you’re going to have positive results.
Enjoy the many benefits of eating mindfully:
1. Greater health. When you develop the ability to eat mindfully, you’re much more likely to eat healthy foods in the proper amounts and at appropriate times. The result is greater health.
2. Weight loss. Mindful eating greatly reduces the likelihood of obesity and can lead to significant weight loss.
3. Better digestion. When you eat healthy foods, eat them slowly, chew them thoroughly, and avoid overeating, your digestion improves significantly as a result.
4. Higher resistance to eating disorders. Eating disorders are at the opposite end of the spectrum from mindful eating. While this eBook is not intended to be a treatment for eating disorders, it can be an effective preventative measure.
Mindful eating is a healthy way of eating that puts food in a positive perspective.
5. Greater control over eating habits. Mindlessness leads to abuse. When you look at food accurately and objectively, it’s easier to behave in a positive manner. Mindful eating is a set of healthy habits that also helps to break an unhealthy relationship with food.
6. Better understanding of yourself. When you examine your behavior, habits, and motivations, you learn more about yourself. Most of us are oblivious to ourselves. It’s only through a careful study of yourself that you can truly learn about yourself.
7. Development of mindfulness skills that can be applied to other parts of life. Mindfulness is a universal skill that can impact every part of your life in a positive way. Mindfulness will increase your life satisfaction.
8. Enjoy meals more. Meals are more enjoyable if you pay attention to them. Meals are also more enjoyable when you know that you’re in control, and that you’re doing what’s best for your health.
There’s no downside to mindful eating. If you take the time to master this skill, you’ll see numerous benefits in all parts of your life.
What you learn from eating mindfully can be applied to other parts of your life. Mindful eating affects your mind, body, and life experience for the better.
Discovering Your Eating Cycle
Understanding the what, when, why, how, and where of your eating patterns will permit you to be much more mindful of your eating now and in the future. If you’ve never given thought to your eating patterns and choices, now is the time to investigate them.
Consider these questions to learn about how you approach food and eating:
1. Why do you eat? Your immediate response might be related to hunger or keeping yourself alive. But you’d be surprised how many other reasons that you might have for eating.
• Make a list of all the reasons you eat. You could even ask yourself this question before each snack and meal for the next few days. Record your answers.
2. When do you eat? Do you eat at certain times of the day? During certain activities, such as watching TV, sitting with friends, or taking a break from work? Are there certain moods that trigger you to eat?
• For the next couple of days, track when you eat. Notice the time of day and the general circumstances.
3. Where do you eat? The car? Dinner table? Couch? Track this for a week or so, too.
4. What do you eat? Does the time of day, circumstance, mood, location, and reason for eating impact your food choices?
• What foods do you like?
• What foods do you dislike?
• What is your favorite unhealthy food? Why?
• Are you more likely to eat poorly in the car than when you eat at home?
• Do you eat more junk food while watching TV?
• Do you eat better in the morning or at night?
• Do you eat better when in a good mood versus a bad mood?
• Do you eat better when you’re alone or with others?
• Do you eat better at home or at a restaurant?
• Notice when you’re most likely to eat nutritiously – or not.
5. How do you eat? There are many ways to eat the same food.
• Do you eat quickly or slowly?
• Do you normally eat alone or with others?
• Small bites or large?
• Do you pay attention to your food, or are you daydreaming?
• Do you eat for enjoyment or for health?
• Do you take many small drinks during a meal?
• Do you eat one food on your plate until it’s gone before moving on to another?
Become an expert on your own eating habits and methods. This is great practice for paying attention to your eating. It’s also very informative.
It’s much easier to eat well and maintain a healthy weight if you know the times and circumstances in which you’re most likely to eat nutritiously or give in to unhealthy foods. Knowing your motivations for eating is important, too.
You’ll be surprised by what you learn if you go through this process. With this information, you’ll be in a much better position to eat properly and maximize your health.
There are biological reasons that so many people eat when stressed. When a person is physically or emotionally stressed, the body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol does a lot of things, including increasing food cravings for foods high in sugar or fat.
Stress also increases the hormones that produce feelings of hunger. Stress is harmful to your mind and body.
It’s especially important to be mindful during those periods of time you’re experiencing stress.
Stress makes it much more like that you will:
1. Experience hunger even though you’ve already had plenty to eat. Eating when your body doesn’t need food increases the chance of unintentional weight gain and can negatively affect your health.
Just because you’re hungry doesn’t mean you should eat. Hunger is a signal that you should consider eating. So, consider it. But if you’ve already had enough to eat, make the decision to pass.
2. Eat when you’re not hungry. If eating makes you feel better, your brain doesn’t care if you’re hungry or not. It will make eating seem like a great idea. Unfortunately, eating when your body doesn’t need food leads to weight gain, which contributes to the development of many diseases.
3. Eat unhealthy foods. Under stress, many people will resort to eating all sorts of things they know they shouldn’t eat. Chips, ice cream, processed meats, sweets, and other unhealthy foods suddenly become even more appealing than they usually are.
4. Eat too much. Eating while stressed is likely to result in overeating. And not only do you eat too much, but you’re likely to be eating unhealthy foods.
5. Eat in a way that makes you feel even worse. If you’re eating when your body doesn’t need food, and you’re eating foods that aren’t good for you, you’re almost certainly going to feel worse after you eat than you felt before you started.
6. Eat mindlessly in general. Stress takes your mind off the eating experience. You’re more likely to find yourself eating while watching TV, watching YouTube videos, thinking about whatever is causing you stress, or daydreaming.
Stress is a part of life now more than ever. It’s easy to allow your eating patterns to get out of control when you’re stressed. You’re more likely to crave unhealthy foods or eat when you’re not even hungry. Stress and poor eating habits are strongly linked.
Here’s how you can avoid the tendency to eat poorly during stressful times:
1. Keep track of your food intake. If you’re feeling stressed on a regular basis, and many people are these days, it’s a good time to track your food intake. There are plenty of free apps, such as MyFitnessPal, that make it very easy to keep track of your calories, macronutrients, and even exercise.
Having an actual number to look at makes it easier to gauge if you have a legitimate reason to eat.
2. Assess your hunger. Are you really hungry? Take an objective look at your hunger. Did you eat recently? Have you been engaged in a lot of physical activity since you last ate? Do you actually feel hungry, or do you just have the urge to eat?
If you’re not hungry, do your best not to eat. If you simply have to eat in spite of not truly needing to, try eating something that’s healthy but has minimal calories. Lettuce, other greens, celery, broccoli, and cauliflower are a few examples of foods that are practically calorie free.
3. Make healthy choices. If you’re feeling stress, but it actually is time to have a meal, focus more than ever on eating healthy foods. It’s so easy to eat poorly during stressful times that your food selection is especially important.
Healthy foods will allow your mind and body to deal with stress more effectively. And the last thing you need is to create even more stress by eating poorly and becoming sick.
4. Eat slowly. One of the most effective ways to avoid overeating is to eat slowly. Very slowly. Decide that you’re going to take small bites and chew ridiculously slowly. Chew your food at least 30 times.
Take a small drink of water between each bite. That’s water, not juice, soda, or anything else.
5. Eat without distraction. No radio, chatting, TV, cell phone, or books. It’s just you and your food.
6. Relieve your stress in other ways. If you don’t have a legitimate biological need to eat, it’s best not to eat. Regardless of how tough you are, you must deal with the stress that’s pushing you to eat, or you’ll eventually fail. You’ll eventually give in if you don’t find something else to do. Some stress-relieving ideas are:
• Go for a walk.
• Read a book.
• Find a yoga class on TV and participate.
• Call someone.
• Clean your garage.
• Take a nap.
• Take a hot shower or bath.
Stress-related eating is very common, but that doesn’t mean you have to allow stress to affect the way you eat. Stress affects the way you feel compelled to eat, but you can choose to eat mindfully instead. Mindful eating is a way to combat stress-related eating and its negative effects on your diet and health.
Food and Mood
Your brain never stops working. It’s even furiously working away while you sleep. It never gets a break. Because it’s always working, it requires a constant supply of nutrition.
So, it only makes sense that the quality of the nutrition you’re providing impacts the functioning of your brain. The food you eat affects your brain and your mood.
Just as a car runs best on clean, high-quality fuel, your brain runs best when it’s fed properly. A low-quality diet doesn’t just create physical issues, such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. It can also create brain-related issues that influence your mood.
There is a field of medicine called nutritional psychiatry. This area of medicine addresses the impact of food on mood and behavior.
See how food can have a major impact on your mood:
1. Serotonin is produced primarily in the gut. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that’s involved in regulating appetite, sleep, pain inhibition, and the mediation of moods.
The hundreds of millions of neurons in the intestinal tract are influenced by the serotonin produced in the gut. It’s believed that 95% of serotonin is produced in the gut.
2. The bacteria in your gut are an important influencer of your mood. The good bacteria in your gut help to protect you from the bad bacteria. They help to properly seal the interior of your intestinal tract from the rest of your body.
They also help to control inflammation throughout the body.
They even affect the neural pathways between your brain and your gut.
3. A diet high in processed food increases the likelihood of depression by as much as 35%. Areas of the world that eat minimal amounts of processed foods have a far lower incidence of depression. It’s likely that there are other psychological issues that are influenced by diet.
What you put into your body affects your brain and your mood. Mindful eating can reduce the likelihood of suffering from depression and help to stabilize your mood. The food for your body is akin to the gas for your car. Using the proper fuel has a lot of benefits.
Applying the Ideas of Nutritional Psychiatry to Yourself
You might not be a nutritional psychiatrist, but you don’t need to be. You don’t have to be a certified personal trainer to do some pushups and go for a run. You can gain a tremendous amount of insight and progress from doing some simple experimenting on yourself.
Use these strategies to experiment with how various foods affect your body:
Make a list of qualities you consider to be important that could be food-related. Rate yourself for each quality on a 1-10 scale. Here are a few ideas:
• Ease of falling asleep
• Quality of sleep
• Body weight
• Ability to focus and concentrate
• Overall mood
• Mental sharpness
• Physical comfort or pain levels
• Blood sugar, blood pressure, or other symptoms current ailments
• Give yourself a rating for all of these characteristics before you begin your two-week experiment.
Eliminate all potentially unhealthy foods for two weeks
For two weeks eliminate all processed foods, nuts, dairy, alcohol, and added sugar. Processed food is anything that doesn’t occur in nature. So, no pasta, bread, crackers, soda, flour, sugar, and so on.
While olive oil is considered to be acceptable, eliminate other oils for two weeks.
So, what does that leave then you can eat? Eat these foods:
- Meat in its natural form. So, no sausage, hotdogs, bratwurst, or any meat that has things added to it.
- Beans. Rice and potatoes are okay but provide little nutrition and significant calories.
- Fruit. Watch your sugar intake. Treat fruit as a dessert.
After two weeks, rate yourself again
You’ll probably find that you feel fantastic compared to how you normally feel after just a few days. You’ll feel even better after two weeks.
It’s time to rate yourself again. Go back through your list and give yourself a new rating. Unless you already ate extremely well to begin with, you’re going to see some positive changes.
Consider adding back in certain foods
You’ve eliminated foods that were causing you issues, but you also eliminated foods that weren’t a problem. It’s time to find out which foods are problematic, and which are not.
Stay away from junk food These are foods like chips, ice cream, candy, and fried chicken.
However, if you love nuts, dairy, bread, or pasta, you might be able to eat these without a significant penalty. In fact, dairy and nuts can be healthy, but many people have issues with them.
Here’s the plan: Add back one food at a time. After three days, rate yourself again. If your numbers don’t get worse, feel free to continue eating it. Of course, a lower score means you should skip that food.
Only add back one food at a time! Otherwise, your results won’t give you any useful information. You won’t know if only one food is bothering you, two of them, or all of them.
Keep in mind that if one gluten-containing food bothers you, it’s likely that all of them will.
With some simple and patient experimentation, you can find the foods that work best in your body. In just a few weeks, you can feel considerably better physically and psychologically. This information is invaluable when applied to your mindful eating practice.
A Suggested Process for Eating Mindfully
You might be wondering how to put all of this information together. Let’s explore a simple, but thorough, mindful eating process. Feel free to adapt these suggestions to fit your own preferences and situation.
A successful mindful-eating process will consider all of the bases:
1. Shop mindfully. If you want to eat healthy food, it’s necessary to have healthy food in the house. If you want to avoid unhealthy food, keep it out of your house. Think about the healthiest foods you like to eat and have them available to you at home.
2. Weigh yourself each morning. Your body weight is an important number. That doesn’t mean you need to target a specific number, but it’s important to know which direction your weight is moving. It’s hard to know how much to eat if you don’t have a clue what your weight is doing.
3. Determine if you should eat. Are you actually hungry? If not, don’t eat. If you are hungry, determine whether you’re actually hungry or just stressed.
If you think you’re hungry, try this: Think of a healthy food you consider neutral. This is a food you don’t particularly like, but don’t mind either. Would you eat that if it were your only option? Or would you prefer to not eat if that was the only food available? This will tell you if you’re actually hungry.
Consider that if you were truly starving, you’d eat anything. You’d even eat a food you despise and be grateful for it! Now, you don’t have to wait until you’re starving to eat, but if you’re willing to eat half a pizza, but would turn down an apple and a salad, you’re not hungry yet.
If you’re not hungry, find something else to do. Refer to Chapter 3.
4. Determine what you’re going to eat. So, you’ve established that you’re hungry and it’s time to eat. The next step is to decide what you’re going to eat.
What are your health conditions? For example, if you’re diabetic, a low-carb meal is probably a better option than a high-carb meal.
What should you eat? Eat the most nutritious food that sounds good to you that considers your health conditions.
A meal should be healthy and leave you feeling satisfied. Choose accordingly. Again, if there are no healthy foods that sound good to you, you’re probably not hungry.
5. Determine how much you’re going to eat. Decide how much food you need. What have you done for the last several hours? What are you planning on doing over the next several hours? When did you last eat? When will you eat again?
Make a conscious decision about the quantity of food that you’ll eat.
6. Sit down and eat. Eat your meal mindfully. Remember to eat slowly, chew thoroughly, and notice the taste, smell, and texture of your food. Keep your attention on your meal. Notice when you start to become full and then stop.
7. Reflect on how you feel. Do you feel overly full? Did that meal make you feel good? Stressed? Nauseous? What did you learn from eating that meal?
Once a meal is completed, there’s no reason to be thinking about food until it’s time to eat again.
Pay attention to what you’re doing throughout the day.
Otherwise, you might miss your life.
Creating the Mindful-Eating Habit
Eating mindfully is a big change for most people. Maybe you’re used to standing in the kitchen and eating a frozen pizza while you watch YouTube videos. Moving from that experience to eating at the table, chewing slowly and thoroughly, focusing on your food, and eating in silence might be a bridge too far for a single step.
Instead, try implementing one aspect of mindful eating at a time:
- Focus on chewing your food very slowly for several days.
- Spend a week putting your full attention on the eating experience.
- Make a real effort to choose your foods mindfully.
- Track your food intake for a week. Notice the quality of the food and the number of calories.
- Only allow yourself to eat while hungry.
Break down mindful eating to its individual components and become skilled at each one before moving on to another. Slow progress is a million times better than no progress.
It’s not a race.
Another important activity is to practice mindfulness throughout the day. Strive to be mindful in everything you do.
Mindfulness is a skill, and skills require practice to master.
Every activity can be mindfulness practice for every other activity.
Mindfulness in general is a great way to reduce stress and experience more of your life.
Few people eat in a manner that anyone could label as “mindfully”. Given the important role that food plays in your health, it’s important to eat mindfully and intentionally.
The times we live in have a major impact on social opportunities, personal finances, the health of businesses, and certainly health. No one can be certain what the future holds, but there are some things you can control.
One of those things is your diet. Eating healthy foods in adequate amounts at effective times will have a huge impact on your health. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is to eat mindfully.
Eating mindfully will teach you a lot about yourself. It will also provide the opportunity to change your eating habits in a positive way. It can also lead to dramatic changes in your health and aid in weight loss.
Becoming mindful in all aspects of your life can greatly increase life satisfaction. Get the most from your life with mindfulness.