When was the last time you had a mindful meal? When we sit down to eat, we are not just eating, we are consuming our thoughts, emotions and the circumstances surrounding us. Rushing through a meal, or being stressed, frustrated, tired, or distracted can hinder your ability to digest properly and derive adequate nourishment for both the body and the mind. But when you start a mindful eating practice you set the stage for many benefits.
Stress can impair the contraction of our digestive organs; it weakens essential blood flow to digestive organs, reduces digestive secretions and confuses the nervous system. This can lead to inflammation, loss of appetite. IBS symptoms, gas, bloating and heartburn.
Eating a plant-based diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans is great, but there’s a key component that is often overlooked…It’s not just what we eat, but how we eat that matters.
Here are some tips to keep in mind for creating a mindful eating practice.
12 Tips to Start a Mindful Eating Practice
1. Pause and observe your food.
Digestion begins with the senses. When you register a meals’ pleasant aroma and attractive colors you secrete more digestive enzymes that aid in proper digestion and absorption.
2. Minimize distractions.
Turn off the gadgets and set your phone on silent. When working from home, it’s often tempting to “work through lunch” or have a snack at the computer. It’s important to focus on the meal at hand and give your body a break to eat uninterrupted.
3. Give thanks.
Being grateful makes everything more precious.
4. Slow down.
Make a habit of putting your fork down between bites. Overeating is typically the result of eating mindlessly or rapidly, which is usually caused by overstimulation or distraction. Take a pause between bites, allowing your gut and brain time to register and send proper signals that cue actual hunger and satiety.
5. Chew thoroughly.
Macrobiotics suggests we chew each bite 50 times. Yes, 50 times! I understand that seems like a bit much, but the key is to chew your food thoroughly. Allow your teeth to do the work so your GI doesn’t have to overwork. Breaking down large food matter is taxing and requires a lot of energy. If you’re often tired after meals, this suggestion might be right up your alley!
6. Drink water.
Water is the best way to hydrate and is an excellent choice for any meal. In addition, when you drink water you are avoiding excess sugar and calories from juices and other sugary beverages.
7. ake mealtime a time to connect.
Nowadays, the typical family is so busy and often members are running in opposite directions. Get the family together for dinner time to connect and bond.
8. Avoid packaged food.
Mindful eating not only involves how we eat but what w eat. By avoiding packaged foods, you may also be avoiding many of the artificial ingredients, added sugars, and excess salt and junk that many packaged foods contain. Eating whole foods allows you to enjoy the taste an texture of real foods.
9. Don’t eat at your desk.
Step away from the desk at lunchtime. Get away from your workspace and head to a peaceful, relaxing environment. This may be your employer’s break room or cafe, or you may choose to head outdoors to enjoy some fresh air (highly recommended!). In addition to supporting mindful eating habits, creating some physical and mental space between you and your work during meals will help rejuvenate you throughout the day as well.
10. Turn off tech.
Turn off technology during meals. Silence your notifications, or better yet, turn off your devices and leave them in a different room. Allow yourself a minimum of 15-20 minutes where you are not being distracted by a ding, chime, status update, or other notification – and simply enjoy your meal.
11. Take it one mindful meal at a time.
Start with one mindful meal each day. Rather than trying to transition all at once to a mindful eating practice, take it one meal at a time. Pick one meal each day that you will make your “mindful” meal by sitting down to eat, chewing slowly, and really enjoying your food.
12. Plan your meals.
Plan your meals ahead of time. Setting aside time to plan and meal prep is another way to ensure mindful eating. When your meals are planned out and prepped, they are readily accessible for you during the week, lessening the impulse to eat mindlessly. Whether you are preparing meals for just you or an entire family, preparing meals in advance ensures you stick to a healthy, balanced diet.
More Tips for Creating Mindful Eating Habits
1. Plant something.
Even if it’s a patio garden or herbs on your counter, growing your own food is a little reminder (especially for the kids) that real food actually grows from the earth and doesn’t originate from boxes, bottles, bags, cans, containers etc.
2. Limit excessive talking and negative conversation.
If we are consuming the entire experience, that includes our conversations. Keeping your family’s “table talk” pleasant amplifies the good nature of the food and the experience.
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Alicia Hyatte is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Family Wellness Advocate, Health Educator, and a Diabetes Prevention Lifestyle Coach. She helps overwhelmed parents to build better habits and healthier routines at home and live a more balanced life. Her website, WholeFamilyLiving.com, provides motivation and simple strategies for handling everyday challenges like managing stress, being active, eating healthier, losing weight, and more. Alicia is a beach lover and vegetable gardening geek in her spare time.