We live in the age of multitasking and working overtime, where convenience is often valued over health. If we aren’t consumed by thoughts of all the tasks we have immediately at hand, we’re thinking ahead to the evening or the weekend or fantasizing about that vacation next month. We’re never fully present.
In such a busy world, it’s difficult to be mindful, even though mindfulness is one of the keys to remaining healthy.
What is mindfulness, anyway?
Mindfulness is essentially the practice of living in the present moment. When you are being mindful, you’re aware of your movements, your thoughts, your breath, and your feelings – both physical and emotional. When you’re being mindful, you are moving, thinking, and acting with intention.
Mindfulness can be practiced through meditation. Tons of free meditation apps exist for your smartphone to help make it accessible for busy people. Mindful eating can also be practiced through specific meditations, as well as exercises like the one detailed at the end of this article.
With so many people in the world today constantly on the go, meals and snacks are often an afterthought. Lunches are make-ahead meals that we eat quickly in the car on the way from Point A to Point B. Dinners are take out Chinese food that we wolf down as soon as we get home from work because we’re too tired to cook at home and too hungry to eat slowly.
Nutritional content of each meal aside, the way in which we eat our food is simply unhealthy. Incorporating mindfulness into each meal can help to improve your health.
Weight Loss – If you’re paying attention to each bite you take and each time you chew, you should be eating slower. Slow eating is ideal for optimal digestion, and may give you more opportunities to check in with your body’s hunger cues as well. Mindful eating will prevent you from eating until you’re feeling bloated and past full. You’ll be more tuned in to how much more food your body needs and be able to stop when you’re comfortably full. By preventing overeating and encouraging eating only what the body requires, mindful eating will lead to modest weight loss.
More Nutrition- To eat mindfully is to eat with intention, beginning the moment you choose your foods. Again, pay attention and figure out what it is that your body actually requires. Odds are, it’s not a cookie! Think about the nutritional content of the food you’re going to use as fuel. While cookies are necessary every once in a while to stay sane, most likely your body is hoping that you’ll opt for leafy greens, fresh fruits and veggies, or whole grains. Choosing foods that are healthful for you will cause you to consume more nutrition, and become healthier as a result.
More Enjoyment- Being mindful includes taking the time and the energy to pay attention to what you’re eating. Gone are the days of scarfing down a meal, barely pausing to notice how it tastes! Mindful eating encompasses noticing the flavors included in each bite you take, leading to an increased enjoyment of the foods you eat.
An exercise in mindful eating
Sit down at the table with a small piece of food in front of you, like a grape or a square of dark chocolate. Look at it for a moment. Note the color, the shape. Is there a scent? Consider how this food item was made and how it got to be sitting on your table. Was it grown on a tree, picked by a worker, shipped to your grocery store, and purchased by you? How many ingredients were used in its production? Where did all those ingredients come from?
Next, pick it up. Pay attention to the texture, and how it feels to hold it in your fingers. Is there a scent?
Take a bite. Take note of how it feels against your teeth, against your tongue. What does it taste like? Is it sweet, spicy, sour, or salty? Is it enjoyable? How many flavors do you taste?
While you don’t have to take this much time and energy in eating every single meal, this is a great exercise to introduce you to the principles of mindful eating. If you’re able to apply this exercise (or pieces of this exercise) as often as possible, you’ll notice the positive changes in your health.