What is Mindful Eating and Why Should You Care?

Have you tipped the scale on balanced nutrition, weighing too heavily in one food camp such as raw, gluten-free, vegan or paleo? Or do you swing from one extreme to the other––clean eater by day, but ravenous sweet freak by night. Or are you the weekend wine warrior who, on Monday, becomes the juice fasting fanatic?

Just for the record, I have been guilty of all these examples and more. I’ve taken a trip down paleo lane, devoted a year to 100% raw, and lived on nothing but juice for days. I’ve practiced food combining, and strict adherence to carb-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy, nut, and corn-free eating. I’ve eaten chicken but not beef, fish but not eggs, and then eggs but not fish. I’ve imbibed to excess, and then spent the next seven days consuming nothing but lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper. I’ve put myself on the no-fruit diet, the all fruit diet, and pretty much every diet in between except the breatharian diet––I enjoy food way too much for that.

So what did I learn during all this eater experimentation? In each case, the diet du jour became my identity. Yep! I admit…my identity became the stuff of food. I began to define who I am by the food I was eating, and forgot I need to be eating for who I am.

I would unconsciously say things like I AM VEGAN. I am NOT vegan. I am Tina who likes to eat a predominantly plant-based diet. See the difference? The latter invites flexibility. It gives us the opportunity to be mindful of our food choices, tailoring them to what we truly need.

Flexibility and connection with our inner needs are essential to our wellbeing. Our dietary requirements change with the climate, the seasons, demands of the day, levels of stress and activity, and our states of wellbeing. We have to be attuned to hearing what our inner voice says will nourish us best, and then be willing to activate in accordance with those subtle messages.

There literally is no one size fits all diet, and by being label-identifying eaters, we ignore what our bodies and souls truly require. We need to be mindful enough to eat from the inside, rather than the outside in.

Mindless eating is frighteningly common.

Take a devout raw foodie. She regularly noshes on salads and dehydrated crackers, nut patés and kelp noodles. She follows the raw diet with vigor––so much so that on a rainy, 40-degree day, and despite her body screaming for hot cereal, she takes a green smoothie to the face. She wonders why she’s always gassy, and holding onto excess weight. It’s because, even in the name of good health, she isn’t honoring the demands placed on her body by her environment and lifestyle. What she really needs is warm, grounding, and comforting foods, not cold smoothies and dehydrated crackers with near every drop of moisture extracted. See what I’m getting at?

Then there is the experience you may best identify with. As you go to take a bite of food, your mind runs wild with thoughts like, “Here I go. This is really about to happen. I am going to eat this bite of pasta, and it might make my stomach freak out, and it might make me fat. It will surely go to my hips, and tomorrow I am going to feel heavy, bloated, and like crap. But, it looks and smells scrumptious, and so I’m going to eat it anyway. I’ll just burn it off at the gym in the morning.” All of these thoughts play out in the time it takes your fork to leave your plate, and raise that ribbon of pasta to your lips.

Can you feel right now what all that negative mind chatter does to your body? Are you seeing how anxious you would feel in that moment? All that guilt-ridden dialogue prepares you for the worst, and results in your body rejecting those noodles with a vengeance. Had you sat quietly prior to even placing your order, asking what would best suit your body, you would have likely ordered something that would keep you from taking one bite of guilt after another. And, just for the record, that something just might be the pasta. If it is, your body and mind so want you to get enrolled in letting the pasta be okay––to go ahead and order and eat without guilt, without body shaming, and without restriction. This is eating liberation, and you experience it! You just might need a few tools to get you there.

Too often, we implement a program of eating in an attempt to lose weight, increase energy, combat disease, or bring a glow of health to our complexion. Yet, we do it with such conviction, and with a need to defend our eater identification, that we stop tuning into the song of our systems. We ignore the call to eat what is going to best serve the health of our biologically unique bodies.

Food, no matter what it is–––a huge kale salad or a heaping bowl of ice cream, will hurt us if we eat for any other reason than to truly be of service to our one and only precious body.

If we want to thrive, if we want to experience vitality and total wellbeing, we have to shift our inner dialogue from sounding something like, “Will this food make me thin? How many calories are in this? Am I getting enough protein? Will eating this make my skin glow?” To, “Body, what do you need today? What will help you evolve into the most magnificent version of yourself? Will this food make you feel really delicious? What will support you in ensuring the optimum function of all your systems and organs?”

Then, we need to pause long enough to hear the answer.

You may very well know I have been following a mostly plant-based diet for quite some time, and my reason is that doing so best supports my physical and spiritual wellbeing. That said, if I want Bronzino cooked to perfection, or a luscious serving of berries and créme, paired with a glass of delicate and fruity Prosecco, I am going to have it. All the time? No. Because I feel I have to? No. Because I feel like cheating? No. Because I feel like treating? Yes.

And does that decadent dessert then serve my digestion and wellbeing best? Yes. Why? Because I am eating while in total alignment with what is best for me in that moment. Only then is the food I am eating, despite it being rich and creamy, creating harmony in my body digestively. This is really important. In order to achieve and maintain our perfect weight, resist disease, and increase our vitality, we must absorb, assimilate, and eliminate our food efficiently, and we do this by eating precisely what our body is craving, and being aware of our thoughts while putting food to our lips.

So What Now?

I am not suggesting that if you prefer plant based eating, you go out and eat a big steak, or if you suffer from legitimate gluten intolerance, that eating a bowl full of pasta is a good idea. What I am saying is that we all need to start tuning in more. We need to listen to our gut (literally) and make food choices from a place of mindfulness, and not as a means to strengthen eater identification.

Practice eating for YOU! Not for a ‘Diet’. Let me help you learn to eat from the inside out.

Begin right now to eat from the inside, out.

1. Eating Mindfully––slow down. Sit down. Eat without any distractions including watching TV, texting, checking Facebook, emailing or talking on the phone. It also includes driving and working!  Stop it all and just focus on your food.

2.  Chew. Sounds ridiculous to say, right? It’s not. Most of us chew a bite of food fewer than five to ten times before swallowing. We need a minimum of thirty bites in order to truly taste our food, activate digestive enzymes, and thoroughly grind the food so it digests and absorbs with ease.

3.  Bless Your Food. I am not suggesting you sit with arms folded and head bowed in the center of a busy restaurant to pray. What I am suggesting is you pause before your first bite and give internal thanks for the food you are about to enjoy. Extend gratitude to the chef, friend, or family member who prepared it for you. Give thanks for having plentiful access to food and that it can be prepared in sanitary conditions. Then, quietly ask your body to assimilate and utilize the nutrients in the highest and best way. Ask for it to nurture you fully and to give you vitality. Then, take your first bite. Taste it. Really taste and savor each and every bite knowing you are getting precisely what you need.

All of this takes practice, and I promise it gets easier with time. You will be met with challenges, and come head to head with habits that keep you from feeling your best, temporarily. If you are struggling with eating mindfully and from the inside out, I am here for you. Connect with me and let’s get to work on removing those barriers so you can approach food and eating in a way that truly honors you.

Schedule with me to get the support you need to eat clean. Looking for chef consulting service for your business? Please click here.