Stop and think about FOOD for a few minutes. Really take 2 or 3 minutes to think about food before reading on. What came to mind? Your favorite foods? Your least favorite foods? A bad experience with a food? The joy of eating certain foods? Enjoying a meal with family or friends? Now take 2 to 3 minutes to think about your relationship to food. Is it a love-hate relationship? Do you avoid the foods you love, and torture yourself with foods you do not love? Do you simply feel confused about food?
Many of us, whether we realize it or not, have a pretty dysfunctional relationship with food. We are ‘in love’ with the foods that do not love us back; foods that damage our health like hot dogs, cheeseburgers, French fries, fried chicken, pizza, ice cream, donuts, etc. We eat and love these foods because they bring us immediate pleasure (salt, sugar, fat), yet they cause us fatigue and discomfort shortly after eating them, unwanted weight gain, and we know they are not good for us.
We eat because we are bored or stressed, not necessarily because we are hungry. We struggle resisting certain foods when we see or smell them even if we are full. Many of us blast through our meals and snacks in a hurry that we don’t get a chance to appreciate or remember eating much of the food we say we love. We eat our food working or checking out social media on our electronic gadgets.
Where has this dysfunctional relationship to food led us? It has our country in a tailspin of not only poor physical and emotional health, but also extreme health care costs. People are on more medications and at younger ages than ever before.
If we simply ask ourselves, ‘why do we eat?’, most people, if not all, will answer “to live”, “for fuel and energy”. I’ve asked this question to thousands of people in my wellness workshops, speaking engagements and to private clients. I get these same answers or something very similar every time.
So, what if we asked ourselves the simple question before each meal or snack, “Is this food nourishing my body, my mind, my cells? Is it giving me energy and life?, OR is it damaging my body, my mind, and my cells; is it taking away my energy and taking away life?” If you are not sure of the answer, then simply eat slowly and pay attention to how your body and mind feels while you are eating, and for the next several hours and even days after your meal. Do you have more energy, better mental clarity, are in a good mood, and simply feel good for hours after your meal and or snack? Or is your food causing you mental fogginess or fatigue and you need an energy drink afterwards in order to stay alert; or is it causing you bloating and discomfort; or causing your mood dip; feel irritable? These are all signs that your foods are damaging your body, mind, and cells.
I’d like to introduce you to the practice of ‘Conscious Eating’. It is simply being mindful about food and your relationship to food. Here are some simple steps to help you develop and master this healthy habit.
Before every meal or snack, take a moment (around 90 seconds to 2 minutes) to simply pray, contemplate, meditate or simply notice, the origins of the food you are about to eat. What miracles had to occur for these fruits, vegetables, and or grains to grow? What labor had to be done to nurture them and package them, so that they can be eaten today? What animal had to be sacrificed, and what work did someone have to do to prepare the food you are about to eat? Taking this time to slow our heart rate and increase our awareness puts us into a state of gratitude, which also optimizes our digestive system, so that we absorb more nutrients, and can get rid of waste more efficiently. When we eat in a hurry, stressed or working, our digestive system shuts down as part of our sympathetic nervous response (think fight or flight response). When we do this, our food sits in our gut for 2 to more days putrefying, which leads to excess growth of harmful bacteria. Imagine your food sitting on the dashboard of your car for a few days in the 98.6-degree heat of summer (that’s our body temperature). And if you consider that 70 to 80 percent of our immune system is in our gut, as is part of our nervous system, you will want a ‘healthy gut’.
During each meal for the first few minutes, eat in a super-conscious state and in super-slow motion, until this becomes more of your normal way of eating. Pay close attention to taste, smell and texture of your food as it is in your mouth. Pay attention to sensations in your body as you swallow your food and it enters your body. Is the food nourishing me? Is it increasing my energy? Is it a positive experience? Chew slowly and completely with each bite, putting your utensil or food down in between each bite. Our bodies are designed to absorb food that is almost liquid, not solid chunks. Chunks of food can get stuck in our gut causing irritations in the lining of our gut, as well as the development of bad bacteria. Additionally, eating slowly makes you more aware of when you are actually satiated. It takes approximately 20 minutes for our stomach and brain to communicate with each other and let you know that you are actually full. If you scarf down your meal, you will often eat far more calories than you need without realizing body doesn’t really want or need any more.
After each meal, pay attention to how your body and mind feels after the meal for the next several hours. As mentioned earlier in this article, notice if you feel more energy or less? Do you feel more mental clarity, or do you feel mentally fatigued? Do you feel satiated or cravings? Do you feel normal and light, or bloated and encumbered?
When we are mindful and practice ‘Conscious Eating’, we will intuitively and more easily begin to choose healthier foods that nourish us and make us feel better, because deep down inside, we all want to have more energy and feel good. That is our true nature, and the reason we eat. This practice will also help to get rid of cravings for unhealthy foods. Doing this simple practice will impact your life in ways you wouldn’t believe. You will never have to diet again. And you can still have your pizza, steak, chocolate or any favorite food! These are three foods I truly love. But with conscious eating, I only eat them on occasion, and I enjoy each bite with full appreciation. I also eat less each time, because I am aware when my body is saying, “that’s enough; thank you”.
I’ve had dozens, if not hundreds of clients, including many truck drivers that have benefited from this practice far beyond their expectations. If you are tired of feeling tired; tired of dieting; tired of struggling with your weight; tired of a dysfunctional relationship with food, practice “Conscious Eating” for just 7 days, and see what you notice. Peace, grace and health.