Mindful Eating: Looking at the HOW vs. the WHAT

Mindful Eating…Those two words give me some serious, “crunchy-granola-zen-yoga-retreat-green-juice” vibes. Know what I mean? Fear not, I promise that it’s not as “out there” as it sounds. Mindful eating is simply a term for the practice of paying attention to how you are eating.

Although, it’s a simple concept in of itself, it actually takes quite a bit of concentration, or mindfulness, to follow through. We tend to turn on auto-pilot when we eat. Our forks move in rhythm from our plate to our mouth as we zone out to our favorite Netflix show. Digestive issues like chronic bloating, gas, and indigestion are so common nowadays, and we often jump right to what we ate as the culprit. But what if we’ve been looking at it all wrong? Yes, of course, what we eat is important, we all understand that; but how big of a role does our mental space and environment play in the digestive process? What is the balance between what we are eating and how we are eating. How does it affect our overall health?

In February of this year, I challenged myself to eat mindfully for every meal (even snacks) for the entire month. This meant that I:

  • Put away all electronics. I allowed myself to listen to podcasts, but would turn my screen face down and put my phone away from me.

  • Took deep breathes and made a conscious effort to relax my body before and while I ate.

  • Chewed my food A LOT. I would count to at least 30 until the food was completely broken down.

  • Put my fork down between bites and focused on the food in front of me and the flavors I tasted.

Before I had the the very first meal of my month-long experiment, I sat down and took a few deep breathes prior to eating. I immediately noticed that my stomach was slightly engaged (tight). You know how you engage your abdominal muscles (belly button to spine, ribs knit it) when you workout? Like that, not to the extreme, but it was slightly held in, and I had no idea why. When I thought about it, it made sense to me that my belly should probably be relaxed while I was eating (like girl who are you flexing for during lunch?). Focusing on my breathe and bringing calm to my body, I went through all of the points I listed above. Upon finishing my meal, I felt so present. I was in shock at how satisfied and at ease I felt, and that I had no symptoms of digestive distress. Fast forward to the end of the month, and I was COMPLETELY convinced of the importance of mindful eating. There were quite a few times where, out of habit, I would grab my computer when sitting down to eat. I’d turn something on, shovel a few bites, and then realize what I was doing! How interesting that that was my default.

Anyway, I encourage all of you to be mindful of how you eat. Don’t just go on auto-pilot, but be present with what you are about to nourish yourself with. Put the screens away, take deep breaths to bring calm to your body, chew slowly and a lot, and put your fork down in between bites. Also, make sure to drink some water when you’re all finished! Just to have a little science in this post; There are digestive enzymes in your saliva that are crucial to smooth digestion and proper absorption of nutrients. When we eat quickly and don’t chew our food adequately, those enzymes don’t get a chance to break down our food and help out digestion, which may cause your body to not absorb all of the foods’ nutrients. When malabsorption occurs, you don’t reap the benefits of your food, as well as risk incurring bloating, gas, or any of those other frustrating tummy issues!

Try out mindful eating and notice how you feel before, during, and after. I was a bit anxious to start this little experiment. I was oddly scared that I was going to be bored. What would I do without some entertainment during meal times?! The very first day of this practice, however, brought me so much peace, and that was proof enough for me. Tune in to your body and learn to listen! Not only will your digestion improve, but your food will taste better and be more satisfying than that you ever thought possible. Happy chewing!

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