Meals present each of us with 2-3 times a day we can be present and mindful. Slow down and drop in to your body. What are you hungry for? Is your belly empty and you are in need of nourishment to get through the next few hours or start your day? Are you just craving a sweet or salty snacks? Or do you feel stressed out, lonely, unwanted or unappreciated and are emotionally eating? Is the hunger in your belly, mouth or heart? Regardless of what or where, be aware. Ideally eat when you are hungry. Eat what your body is requesting, even if its sweets or a carb bomb, and watch how you feel during and after. Are you satiated, or still feel the emptiness?
Slow down and check in with your body. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and take some deep breathes. Notice any tension, emotions, or thoughts? Now check again about the what or where of that hunger. Prepare a quiet space to eat. Turn off the ringer on your phone and your computer screen. Move away from your work space to a dedicated dinner table or break room. If this isn’t possible, then clear off your desk or table of clutter. Put down books or e-readers, newspapers or magazines, especially work papers and files. Avoid eating when feeling stressed. If you suffer from indigestion or bloating, constipation, diarrhea or loose stools, or have an IBD or IBS, this can help alleviate these problems. “Although psychological problems like anxiety don’t cause the digestive disorder, people with IBS may be more sensitive to emotional troubles…IBS may be triggered by the immune system, which is affected by stress.”*
Chew slowly and thoroughly. Take a bite, put down your fork, spoon, or chopsticks, or set the sandwich down, and really chew your food, at least 25-30 times for each mouthful. Chewing is the first step to good digestion, essential for the saliva to start breaking down starches; notice how grains or bread become sweeter with chewing as the saliva mixes with each bite. Chewing allows cold food to warm up, and raw food to be broken down to small pieces, opening up the cell walls of plant fibers to allow nutrients out. As you chew you will “drink your food” as it mixes with saliva. And chew your liquids (like smoothies and soups) to encourage saliva to mix.
How does your body feel with each bite? Is your belly welcoming what your are swallowing, or is it tightening up, or feeling queasy (signs of stress, or improper or inappropriate food choices)? Notice when you are starting to fill up, and maybe stop before you are full, setting aside leftovers for a later meal or an afternoon snack. Overeating taxes the body’s ability to digest properly, and leaves one tired and bloated, leads to poor digestion, and contributes to unwanted weight gain.
If during the work week is difficult, practice on weekends. If you have a hectic home life with kids, then do this at lunch time at work. Busy work schedule when you can’t guarantee a quiet lunch, then set the tone of your day with breakfast, or use dinner to unwind into the evening. Regardless of when, pick at least one meal a week, and develop a practice by creating a healthy new habit, Mindful Eating.