Eating: You’re Doing it Wrong.
Dear healthy habit seekers,
Chances are, you’ve probably thought about a lot of different ways to improve your own health. You could increase the quality of your relationships, decrease time spent in front of your phone, adopt a better workout plan, regulate your sleep patterns, etc. etc–I could go on for pages here. Chances are probably higher, though, that more than half of these “I want to be healthier” thoughts stemmed from your eating habits. If you’ve ever tried to adopt healthier eating habits, whether it was to reach weight loss goals, maintain weight, or just be more aware about what you’re putting into your body–you know that it’s a constant challenge. Not only do we need to eat multiple times throughout the day, but making consistent, healthy choices on top of that? Talk about a full time job.
Well, it doesn’t have to be. Actually, what I’m going to talk about today takes no additional time at all. I’m not here to talk about the number of calories, types, or amounts of foods you should eat. While these are all important factors to consider in the realm of a healthy lifestyle, they’re not the only key players. Today, I’m taking a different approach to diet–and I’m going to request that you read from here forward with an open mind, truly considering your own eating practices in the topics I address. I’m not here to talk about what you eat, but rather how you eat it–and how you’ve probably been doing it wrong (in my opinion, at least). That’s right, you guessed it…I’m about to go all yoga teacher on your eating habits. If you eagerly navigated to this page in hopes of finding the secret to losing 20 lbs. in 5 minutes (hint: that’s impossible), you won’t find it here. This is about mindful eating–aka, the practice of being fully present while eating meals and snacks. No phones, no computers, no TV’s, no books–just you, the food, and (if you share mealtime with others) the people sitting around the table with you. If I haven’t scared you away yet, here are 5 reasons why changing the way you eat things will rock your world–and help you to reach your health goals in a more holistic way.
- Brain food. Eating is just as much of a psychological process as it is a physiological one. A host of different body systems are triggered when you sit down in front of a meal–the brain and the gut settling in as the most esteemed guests of honor at the not so metaphorical dinner table. Sure, you have to eat multiple times daily to satisfy the body’s energy needs, but if your brain doesn’t fully receive the mealtime messages, can you ever actually feel satisfied? Not really. When you consume your meals in a state of distraction (i.e. mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, watching the latest political scandal unfold on TV, cramming for the exam you failed to prepare for, etc.), your brain doesn’t fully register that you’ve eaten a full meal. Sure, your stomach may no longer be growling, but your brain was too busy focusing on other stimuli that it missed out on its most important job: to regulate intake. If you fail to pay attention while you’re eating, you not only miss out on the beauty of the food, but also the ever-important hunger cues. What happens when you aren’t tuned into hunger cues towards the end of a meal? You guessed it, you may overeat and regret every moment that ensues. It’s uncomfortable, it’s not nice to the food budget, and it sure isn’t a way to achieve weight loss/maintenance goals.
- Digestion. A few weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast by one of my biggest yoga and life role models, Rachel Brathen (some of you may know her as “Yoga Girl” from her rather famous Instagram account: @yoga_girl). She was addressing an entirely different topic, but she threw out a phrase that I really love: “Where attention goes, energy flows.” I think it fits perfectly into the space of this conversation, as digestion itself is an intricate, energy-heavy process that (as we all know) if disrupted, can be a very unpleasant experience. If your mealtime attention is spent focusing on a screen or rushing around from place to place, where will the energy of blood flow be? Not in the gut, that’s for sure. And that, my friends, is a recipe for a very unhappy tummy.
- Schedule. This is an easy one. Without distractions, mealtimes have definitive beginning and end points. Meals start when you sit down, put everything away, and pick up the utensils. Meals end when you finish the last bite or set the plate aside, acknowledging satiety. This not only streamlines meals, but it creates a set, regulated eating process. Schedules are your body’s best friend–honor them as often as possible.
- Awareness. Avoiding mealtime distractions means that you spend a lot more time focusing on the actual food. This is especially true if you eat most meals alone, as you’ll end up spending most of your time staring at the food and contemplating the origin of its little food life, all while trying not to allow the sound of your own chewing to annoy the heck out of you (that’s what I do, at least). Most importantly, focusing on the food gives you time to consider the things you’re actually choosing to put in your body. It’s no secret that, as a society, we eat a ton of crap. I’m a huge believer in the fact that almost everything can fit into a healthy diet, to some extent. More often than not, though, you have to choose healthy, nutrient dense foods (i.e. fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, etc.) to achieve your health and wellness goals. When you sit down to eat, practice asking yourself if the foods on your plate align with your goals, whatever those may be. If the answer is “no” every once in a while, it’s okay–but responding with a resounding “HECK YES” more oftentimes than not ensures that you’re setting yourself up for success in the long run.
- Gratitude. Lastly, one of my favorite topics in the entire world. In my opinion, it can be a lot easier to find gratitude for people, places, or experiences. If you’re fortunate enough to have access to plentiful, healthy foods, however, it can be a lot harder to remember to apply those same practices of gratitude. Mindful eating opens up so many doors as far as gratitude is concerned, as eating with no distractions allows time to fully appreciate the food and all the hands involved in getting it onto your plate. If you’re lucky enough to share mealtimes with family or friends, this practice of un-distraction also creates a space of gratitude for those around you. This way, you leave mealtime with a full stomach and a full heart (apologies for the sappiness, but the imagery was just too great to pass up).
I’ll be the first to admit that this is really challenging habit to break. I’ve been practicing this concept for about a month now, and I fail at it more oftentimes than not. In fact, I first sat down to write this post with a meal in front of me. About two minutes in, I realized what I was doing, laughed at myself for being such a hypocrite, and pushed my computer to the other end of the table until I was finished eating. Yes, it’s awkward. Yes, it might be a little weird. Yes, it’s definitely counterintuitive–especially if you’re eating a meal by yourself. Try it, though. Sit with the discomfort. Deal with it, move through it, and truly enjoy your meal. When (and if) you find success with it, you’ll discover that it’s actually a really relaxing, almost meditative practice.
P.S. Who knows, time with your own thoughts could lead you to some pretty cool ideas! Fun fact: Every concept behind this blog post was thought up while I was eating breakfast this morning. Happy eating!