Everyone is busy. Somehow it's become the norm, so basic human needs like eating have become intertwined with working, driving, walking or scrolling through our phones...aka multitasking.
It’s like we no longer have time to eat.
BUUUUT hang on a sec. Eating is a very basic human need, and when we don’t allow ourselves to truly experience eating as a source of fuel and pleasure, that’s when our relationship with food can get out of whack (and mindLESS eating can take over).
That’s why I love talking about eating with intention, or mindful eating.
Mindful eating is full presence. Focus. Awareness of what, how and why we’re eating. It’s what allows us to become aware of subtle cues our body gives us before, during and after a meal, which is an important part of cultivating a stronger mind-body connection.
There are so many ways to incorporate mindful eating practices into your routine, but here are 8 simple yet effective tips to get you started:
1 // quick check-in: why am I eating?
Are you hungry? Bored? Craving something? Do you just want to eat?
All of these are neither good nor bad, they’re neutral reasons and totally valid. Without judgement, simply observe your answer and move forward.
When I work 1:1 with clients, I dive deeper into patterns of eating out of boredom or to cover up emotions, but the purpose of this exercise is to simply cultivate mindfulness before you even start eating, no matter what your answer is.
2 // set the mood
Just like we tend to be a busy society, we’re also a stressed society. It may be challenging to totally escape stress, but it’s important to eat when we’re in a calm frame of mind.
Stress signals our fight-or-flight response, which was really helpful thousands of years ago when humans had to outrun a bear or fight off an enemy. But nowadays, there’s rarely a physical threat when we’re stressed, so we’re left with this fight-or-flight response that slows down or stops digestion, because digesting food isn’t the priority at that point -- outrunning the bear is. Our bodies can’t tell the difference between a bear and modern stress!
If we eat while stressed, our bodies aren’t totally focused on digestion, so issues like bloating, gas and constipation can pop up.
A really simple way to calm down before mealtime is to take a deep breathe. This also triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, or rest and digest mode which - surprise! - is what we want when we eat!
3 // eliminate distractions
Put your phone away, close your computer, turn off the TV, and eliminate anything else that could be distracting during mealtime. As I mentioned before, eating + multitasking has become pretty normal, but becoming aware that we do it is a great first step.
The reason behind this is simple: distractions take our focus off eating and can also be a source of stress (like watching the news + eating or scrolling through Facebook + eating). Remember, when we eat while stressed, our bodies aren’t able to properly digest our food.
4 // sit down at a table
I get this isn’t always possible, but whenever you can, sit your booty down! There are a few reasons behind this:
a) It eliminates chances of multitasking, like eating + driving or eating + walking
b) it sets the tone to slow down
c) it signals that it’s meal time and shifts you into a more mindful headspace right off the bat
5 // chew, chew, chew
Do you ever inhale your food? You’re eating between meetings or you’re so hungry and a few minutes later you’re like, where did that go?
Mindfully chewing is another way to slow down on purpose. I typically suggest chewing food until it’s baby food soft, which - I know - might seem ridiculous, but stick with me here.
Digestion actually starts in the mouth, so the more work we do chewing, the less stress we put on our digestive systems which helps reduce the chances of bloating, stomach aches or other digestive issues.
6 // put your fork down between bites
Prepping for our next bite while still chewing on our last bite is a subtle form of multitasking. When you literally set down your fork (or spoon or other utensil) between bites, it gives you the opportunity to check in with yourself, swallow, breathe, and stay present.
You might’ve heard that it takes 20 minutes for your brain to realize your stomach is full. While the timing varies, this is pretty much true; there is a time gap between our brains and stomach. Setting down your fork helps to bridge this gap so you’re more in tune with hunger and fullness cues.
7 // express gratitude
A silent thanks, a prayer or even just a pause before and after you eat can help create a healthy relationship with food.
There’s so much that went into the food you’re about to eat, whether it be weeks and months of growing a crop or even hours of physical labor to transport that food to you. The fact that you have food in front of you is also a small yet significant thing to be thankful for, so simply cultivating a sense of gratitude around food helps create a more mindful headspace.
8 // know where your food comes from
I used to work in marketing at a company that connected farmers with chefs. One of my favorite parts of that job was visiting local farms and getting to know the farmers. They dedicated their lives to growing the food we eat, and being aware of this is an incredible way to further cultivate a sense of gratitude around food. In my experience (and my clients’), understanding where my food comes from naturally slows me down while I eat, because I have a greater appreciation and respect for the food in front of me.
An easy way to start this practice is to visit a local farmers’ market! Chat up the farmers, and get to know their story.
So are you ready to eat with more intention? Try incorporating one of these tips for an entire week and build from there! See what works for you and what doesn’t. It’s all about experimenting!