Have you ever thought about your relationship with food?
In times of uncertainty and chaos, it becomes very easy for us to comfort ourselves using food. We all do it from time to time especially when we are in need of comfort. However, it becomes an issue only if we are unaware of this and stuffing ourselves with food becomes our default coping mechanism.
If we are not careful, we often end up overeating and binging on foods which do not nourish and support our bodies. Also, we can become easily used to this way of eating and the nutrient poor foods can end up sabotaging our health over a period of time. Weight gain is simply one of the side effects which is more visible than most.
I chose to write about this topic since I find that this does not get as much importance as the type of foods that we eat.
Eating a nutrient dense diet is most likely the most important thing that you can do right now to take care of yourself. Eating a fresh, unprocessed and nutrient rich foods is more important today than ever before. Unfortunately, whether it is the availability of foods, emotional eating, a lack of support and/or time to cook healthy foods, there are various reasons why many of us struggling to eat healthy right now.
At a time when we are dealing with a virus that has no cure, our immune system needs all the support that it can get from us. One of the simplest and most effective ways that we can do that is by feeding our bodies with foods that nourish us. At the same time, it is equally important to ensure that we eat in a way that we absorb all the nutrients from our foods so that our body can actually use them to replenish our energy, boost our immunity, fight infection, heal and repair.
What are you really hungry for?
We often reach for food when we are trying to fill some sort of a gap within our selves. Whether it is to alleviate our boredom of being stuck at home, to comfort ourselves as we grapple with stress and worry or as a way of rewarding ourselves, we use food in many different ways. Unfortunately, not all of these are good for us.
The question you need to ask yourself when you find yourself reaching for a snack in between meals or craving for a certain kind of food is this
WHAT DO I NEED RIGHT NOW? FOOD? WATER? ANYTHING ELSE?
HOW AM I FEELING AT THIS MOMENT? UPSET? FRUSTRATED? DISAPPOINTED?
ON A SCALE OF 1 TO 10, HOW HUNGRY AM I?
Give yourself 5 minutes to PAUSE and after that, if you still find yourself reaching for the food, please do so with more awareness of how it is impacting your body and mood.
Stress and digestion
When we think about food, we usually do not associate what we are eating and the WAY in which we are eating. While the quality and quantity of food are certainly important, we are often simply unaware of the fact that it is often HOW we eat that can make a huge difference. For while we need to eat healthy foods, we also need to digest, absorb and get the nutrients into each and every cell in our body.
Unfortunately for many of us, we do not prioritise eating and give it the attention that it needs and deserves.
If you are in a stressed state while eating, you are not able to take advantage of the foods that you are eating. Even if you are eating foods that are good for you, your body will choose not to maximise digestion if it thinks it is in danger. This danger need not be even real. Just by thinking about a stressful situation impairs your digestion as your brain chooses to focus on your survival.
What if you could ensure that your relationship with food is such that healthy and enjoyable?
Mindful eating is not about eating in any particular way. Mindful eating in everyday life is simply about paying attention. It can also be a form of a gratitude practice which allows you to appreciate the sights, tastes of the food as well as the people who made it possible for you to enjoy the meal in front of you right from the farmer to the person who cooked it for you.
It ensures that you eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. Eating mindfully ensures that you do not use food as a punishment/reward and a source of comfort or entertainment (except maybe occasionally). It ensures that you do not count calories or obsess about food except being aware of foods suit you and which do not. It helps you to become aware of the impact that food has on your mood and health.
In other words, it vastly improves your relationship with food and can help prevent excessive weight gain.
However, there are other aspects to eating as well which can enhance the nourishment and pleasure that you derive from food.
Slowing down while eating ensures that your body is able to use its digestive secretions (stomach acid, digestive enzyme, bile) to the maximum. It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to let your brain know that you are full. So if you would like to make sure that you are not over eating, take your time to slow down and savour your meal.
Believe it or not, this basic practice of chewing our food is not practiced by many people leading to floating, indigestion and flatulence. I find that this is one of the most overlooked practices when it comes to eating. This is the ONLY part of our digestion that we can control and we need to ideally chew our food until it is liquid. This makes it easier for the stomach to do its job.
When we do not prioritise eating or think it is important, it becomes only too easy for us to see it as a means to an end. Instead of sitting down to savour the meal, we end up in front of a screen, multitasking and eating at random times and places. All of these things distract us from nourishing our bodies and in turn our minds.
“Oryoki” means “just enough” and is the zen practice of eating such that you eat just enough to remain healthy, feel satisfied and energetic. It is an ancient ceremony using a special set of bowls which nest in each other in different sizes with the largest cup holding about one and a half cups. The quantity is not fixed and can change with the circumstances.
You do not need to practice “Oryoki” in its truest form to reap its benefits. All you need to do is become more mindful and pay attention when you are eating.
One raisin can teach you a lot
One of my favourite practices (and that of my health coaching clients) to demonstrate what mindful eating is all about is by eating a raisin. Yes, you heard me right, a single solitary piece of raisin ( or even a piece of dark chocolate) if eaten with attention can completely alter the way that you look at food.
Check out the guided audio meditation below to see how this works. You will need one piece of raisin for this exercise (a small piece of chocolate or any other dried berry will do as well).