Mindfulness is somewhat of a confusing term, and around it exists countless definitions and false perceptions depending on who you talk to, and when you talk to them.
Some believe that mindfulness is a hippie term, only to be used by nutters looking to find their “inner spirit”, whatever that means. Others believe that mindfulness is solely a religious practice, one reserved for those seeking spiritual “enlightenment”. Both of these beliefs are misguided at best, and represent an inability to objectively research a topic before drawing conclusions.
Wait, people have a tendency to make shit up when they’re not particularly well-read on a topic? Shocker. You’d be surprised at how many people condemn the concept of mindfulness, and even the well-documented benefits of meditation, without having done any research on what it entails or its benefits. But now I’m rambling; back on track.
In this email blurb, I’m going to briefly explain what mindfulness is, and then I’ll delve into how you can use it to your advantage from a nutritional standpoint.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be effectively summarized as follows: it is the act of paying attention. Or more simply: being aware.
Over the past several decades, awareness has become a thing of the very distant past. With the explosive advance of technological sciences, we are now entrenched in the latest and greatest electronic experience. As a result we are less mindful of our surroundings, our emotions, our goals, our breathing, our thoughts, the people around us, etc.
Essentially we are on autopilot, gliding through the minutes, hours, and days utilizing only subconscious and trained actions, going through the motions. Life is flying by, and we’re not even attempting to experience it.
All of the above starkly applies to eating in today’s culture.
Rather than sitting at a table conversing with family and friends or eating alone, we sit in front of a television watching American Idol, compulsively checking our phones every three minutes, hoping that at least five people ‘like’ the Facebook status we just posted so as to not look like an unpopular ass hat. God forbid one of our Facebook posts goes ‘likeless’. Oh the horror.
Eating is no longer an experience, it is a required daily action that takes place subconsciously. We never stop to think about why we chose a certain food, the texture, the smell, or even the taste.
And I’m not innocent in this regard. Often times I eat dinner while watching Youtube videos, consistently failing to realize that I’ve downed 1,000 calories in less than ten minutes.
So with the preface out of the way, let’s get into the specifics of the issue and how we can go about fixing it.
The problem is simple, as is the solution.
The problem is that our focus is misplaced. Instead of focusing on the food we’ve prepared, our mind is bouncing between quantifying how much we hate our boss, how the dog pissed on the carpet for the fourth time this week, and when the next Harry Potter marathon airs. The latter being the only reasonable diversion of focus.
While our concentration is elsewhere, we often proceed to shovel down food at an inhuman rate, leading to a lack of physical and psychological satisfaction and eventually, overeating. In short, we all eat mindlessly.
The solution: Be aware and present while eating.
Sounds simple, right? Maybe so, but simplicity does not always guarantee ease in practice, so below I’ll list several tips that can help you become more aware of the act of eating, and in turn, derive more pleasure and appreciation from the food that passes your lips on a daily basis.
Steps in the Right Direction: Being Aware While Eating
1. Eliminate distractions. Ugh, yes, that means you have to turn off your phone; or at least put it in another room. Twitter is a tempting beast, so don’t let it lure you in with a false sense of entertainment. No T.V. or laptop either. Friends re-runs can wait.
2. Schedule meals when you are the least stressed out. I try to eat during “lighter” periods of the day, in terms of workload. Early in the morning, mid afternoon, and very late at night work for me. If you’re worried about stuff you need to get done, you’re more likely to plow through your food with the awareness of a cardboard box. Be in a relaxed, yet focused state of mind while eating.
3. Chew, damn it. Isn’t it fascinating how little we think about the act of chewing? Even more fascinating is the fact that we no longer care to chew sufficiently. Are we really that lazy? Aside from the important benefits of not choking on a huge piece of chicken (i.e. the ability to stay alive), being aware of chewing will be a step towards increasing mindfulness of the different aspects of food, which leads us to the next tip…
4. Appreciate the various elements of food. Texture, smell, taste, etc. This will require you to take things slowly, which is great. Food is one of the most pleasurable gifts we are able to experience on this planet, so use mealtime to appreciate and enjoy it.
Be aware of the food you eat and the sensations that come along with it. Like anything else, it’s going to take some time to increase awareness. I don’t recommend the cold-turkey approach of attempting to implement all of the above at once. Slowly make adjustments that will allow you to reap the benefits of paying attention in a sustainable fashion.
Has mindless eating been an issue for you? How have you attempted to overcome it? Do you still struggle with it? Shoot me an email reply or drop a comment down below with your experiences and thoughts.
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Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink
Mindful Eating as Food for Thought by Jeff Gordinier