The Joy of Mindful Eating
FOOD & MOOD
Mindful eating exercises provides us with simple and compassionate practices to change emotional overeating. Mindfulness eating is an attitude towards food (and much more) that encourages awareness, deliberate action and an open acceptance of the present moment as it unfolds around us.
Often we eat to be happier. Now there is nothing wrong with enjoying our daily eating experiences. In fact mindful eating helps reduce stress.
The issue is if eating has become one of the main ways we deal with our stress.
We suggest adding one or more INTENTIONAL 5-minute happy experiences 🙂 into each day. Over time this will reduce the habit of over-eating. Mindfulness Meditation (especially) can both strengthen the activity of the left prefrontal cortex and reduce the activity in the right prefrontal cortex.
Both fun and social interaction impact the function of the brain. Enjoying pleasurable activities, doing something that seems to make time stand still, spending time with loved ones, pursuing meaning in its many forms, and celebrating accomplishments stimulate the activity in your left prefrontal cortex. In a report on their findings the researchers said: ‘Most emotional eating is related to negative moods.
Mindful Eating: Slowing Down
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G Ross Clark
EATING AWARENESS TRAINING: Driver Sensations
May 16, 2003 8:28 AM
Sadly, unhealthy relationships with food are programmed into us as children- even in this day and age of awareness, behavior modification programs involving sugary treats as rewards are implemented at elementary school levels. How many of our parents offered us sugary snacks as rewards for good behavior? How many of us learned to love ourselves through food that is harmful to our bodies as a result of this conditioning?
Most cultures include feasts as a part of important celebrations but this is a much more mindful and appreciative relationship to food than the relationship we have with food in our modern culture – a culture which provides both the ideal emotional challenges of (e.g. isolation and anxiety)and the ideal eating habits and ample availability of addictive, harmful foods.
Unhealthy habits are ingrained in us as we wolf down breakfast in the car on the way to work and hardly remember the experience of eating it. Many people rush home to throw a frozen dinner in the microwave and eat it minutes later before they’ve even taken time for a relaxed breath since walking in the door. They eat it for nourishment even though no love and nurturing was put into it’s preparation
Then there are those of us who use the ‘buzz’ offered by over-consumption of starches and sugars, to ‘medicate’ ourselves in order to feel less emotional pain or to disconnect ourselves from the intensity of our lives. There is also the boredom and fidgety eating habit – typically something done in front of the TV or when one quits smoking.
I would like to recommend a wonderful book written by a friend of mine. Her name is Kristina Sisu and the book is Food and the Emotional Connection. I think that her book can be purchased through her business website. The name of her business is Wellness Initiatives and I believe she has a dot. com address.
If you are struggling with your overuse of food or your under-use of food, I strongly encourage you to attempt deep relaxation before eating.
If you are struggling with an obsessive, compulsive relationship to food, this can be lessened by focusing thoroughly on the satisfaction of each bite of food that you eat so that you derive greater fulfillment from what you do eat and therefore feel less inclined to overeat.
It also helps to consciously take in the lifeforce of the food with gratitude. This relaxation and focus also greatly enhances assimilation of nutrients and efficiency of the digestive organs and so greater comfort and energy after eating.
If you are struggling with a fearful relationship to food, this relaxation is important to facilitate trust in the food’s ability to nourish you and your body’s ability to receive the foods calmly and to utilize the energy and nutrients in a healthy, efficient way.
Try to take between four and ten minutes before eating to practice rythymic, diaphramic breathing and thus slow your heartrate down and relax your body so that it is in the mode that it needs to be in to digest foods. If you are stressed when you eat, your body’s digestive functions are not activated. During stress, your body prepares to fight or flee and you’ve got adrenalin, and fully pumped limbs and dilated pupils. Your body knows better than to think of measly little chores like digestion during emergencies. And so, if you find yourself stressed when you are about to eat, you cannot count on your body to properly break down and distribute the food energy.
In addition to preparing yourself to enjoy and utilize your meal properly, making the actual process of eating a conscious, calm, meditational experience is also very helpful. Below, I’ve included an excerpt of an article about eating as a mindful, meditational, experience. It’s by Shinzen Young, a very well known Vipassana (mindfulness) meditation teacher.
A little bit about Shinzen:
Shinzen Young, a native of Los Angeles, became fascinated with Asian culture at an early age, learning Chinese and Japanese while still in his teens. In 1968, he entered a doctoral program in Buddhist studies at the University of Wisconsin. Three years later he was ordained as a Buddhist monk at Mount Koya, Japan.
After several years of training in Asian monasteries, he became interested in the scientific study of meditative states and worked at the Princeton Biofeedback Institute. He taught Asian philosophy at Chapman College and mathematics and physics at Ernest Holmes College, and frequently serves as translator for Joshu Sasaki Roshi at Mount Baldy Zen Center.
Shinzen has been conducting meditation retreats throughout North America for over 20 years. His goal is to make meditative practice a viable path for Westerners, not just an exotic import from the East.
His lectures and retreats encourage multi-denominational participation and his teaching approach acknowledges multiple spiritual perspectives.
“Eating as a Meditation:
Working Through Compulsion and Elevating Satisfaction
Each time you take a bite, taste sensations spread over the palate, tongue, cheeks and throat and smell spreads into your nose. If the tastes are pleasant, it will cause a rippling of pleasant sensation throughout your body. An analogy may be helpful. When a pebble is tossed into a pond, it causes a splash where it lands and from that splash ripples spread through the whole pond. The morsel of food is like the pebble; your body is like the pond. The explosion of tastes in your mouth is the splash and the associated reaction of your whole body is the rippling. This global reaction may be subtle but remember, when it comes to working with feeling, “subtle is significant.” If you can detect the ripples and let them come and go without clenching you will greatly deepen your sense of satisfaction.
Eating meditation is an example of spiritual purification through experiencing pleasure with mindfulness and equanimity (evenness/ acceptance) . Through it your baseline of fulfillment in daily life can be permanently elevated. Since it involves a tangible pleasant object of concentration, it makes a good compliment to sitting meditation where unpleasant sensations are sometimes present.
Of course, sometimes unpleasant sensations may arise during eating. For example, if you eat something that you dislike, waves of tension, aversion and cringing may spread through the body. Although it is not necessary to seek such an unpleasant experience, it is helpful to remember that by bringing mindfulness and equanimity to those sensations, deep psychological blockages such as separation, fear and alienation are being broken up.
Eating slowly and mindfully may also cause one to become impatient and driven to gobble. If this should happen be happy! It represents a significant opportunity to work through the drivenness and achieve more ease in daily life.
If during the eating process you feel impatient and driven, try to detect this in terms of tangible “driver sensations” throughout your body. What is true of the ripples of pleasant sensation that bring satisfaction is also true of the tensions and pressures that produce drivenness: they may be subtle and cover much or all of your body.
Observe them with precision and acceptance. In this way drivenness, not only around eating, but in all aspects of your life, will get worked through. Life becomes lighter and easier. Your actions become dynamic and zestful, arising from a fundamental inner peace, as opposed to being driven by subliminal suffering.
When approaching eating as a form of meditation it is useful to pay attention to your posture. Try to keep your spine straight while at the same time allowing the whole body to “settle in.” Rather than “meditating while eating”, try to get the sense that you are in a deep meditation sit during which you just happen to be eating.
Eating slowly will help you focus and also perhaps bring up driver sensations. In order to deepen your state, you may want to occasionally pause, put down your utensils and close your eyes for a period of time. After you have completed your meal, it is instructive to sit for a while and savor the delicate vibrations of satisfaction that suffuse your body after pleasant experiences. In daily life we seldom have an opportunity to contact this significant phenomenon.
You may find that a rhythm develops as you eat. You are aware of the tactile sensations in your hand and arm as you reach for the food, then the flavor qualities and texture sensations in different parts of your mouth and the smells going up to your nose, then your whole body reacting to the tastes and smells and finally the gradual subsiding of taste, smell and body reaction. Then the cycle begins again. Drivenness and impatience may arise just before a bite, or as the flavor and pleasure subsides after a bite, or throughout the whole process. Try to “love your impatience to death” by patiently observing it.
Two sources of distraction during eating meditation are thinking and preoccupation with what’s happening around you. Remember: your defined object of meditation is taste, smell and body sensations. As soon as you feel the tug outward into the sights and sounds around you, gently return to taste, smell and body sensations. As soon as you feel the tug inward to planning, judging, fantasizing and memory…lovingly return to taste, smell and body sensations.
If you are willing to put in some effort, you can enter a kind of slow motion, “eternally present” while eating. “
The SECRET, you may not know, regarding weight.
February 10, 2015, Kristina, Inspiration,
I have been a nutritionist for 18 yrs and have wavered in and out of some good and bad eating habits. I used food as a major part of my healing strategy when I was very ill in the early 90’s. I know exactly what to eat, but emotions can be a powerful force to draw you to foods (like chocolate) that will make you feel better. I have a sign on my fridge that says “There is nothing better than a good friend except a good friend with chocolate”.
You can tell what my craving is!
I have always seen this correlation and still will emotionally eat. That is why I wrote the book “Food and the Emotional Connection” in early 2000. I used to teach a course in the corporate world and at the college in Ontario called: “I’m stressed…pass the chips”. People came out in large numbers. So many of us can all relate to this topic.
Also as a flight Attendant for years, it was not always easy to find really good food to eat when you were constantly on the road…or should I say in the air. Many of us with busy schedules have challenges with making good food choices when we are on the run. The trick is being prepared and packing snacks up ahead of time, and making large meals and freezing them. That has worked well for me.
Another factor I have found in food and how your body utilizes it, is the change in hormones as we age. I used to be able to drop 10 lbs without trying very hard but as I have gotten older that isn’t the case. Balancing your hormones is critical in maintaining health and balanced weight.
Another major issue is your metabolism. So when I read “The Fast Metabolism Diet” by Haylie Pomroy, I was intrigued. My friend lost 8 lbs. in the first week and I have heard of many other success stories. My weight loss was much more gradual, but I learned allot about my body doing this. Everybody is unique.
I have to qualify that IAM NOT A DIETER, and as a nutritionist don’t typically support this. But this diet is about boosting your metabolism so your body can better handle the occasional indulgence. You actually eat allot. Three meals and 2 snacks a day. There is really good science in the book to support this.
I also think every body has its own unique rhythm on how it best metabolizes food. This process helped me get into a better rhythm for my body and improve my eating habits. Though I am no longer on it, as it was too exacting and time consuming , I have stuck with eating 3 meals and 2 snacks regularly and cut back dramatically on sugar. Still have the occasional indulgence but this seems to be Ok especially when you do this with no stress and just enjoy. The body then can easily absorb it.
I found this book also very informative with facts like:
“Wheat is a billion dollar agricultural business. To increase crop yield and thus profits farmers have hybridized wheat to make it sturdy enough to withstand the most extreme conditions. As a result it has become not just indestructible in the field but nearly indestructible in your body, in other words it is very hard for your body to digest and extract its nutrients” That is why so many people have bloating when they eat wheat.
Can you relate to that?
As you can tell….the topic of nutrition is a big one and can be complicated.
You are probably thinking by now, when is she actually going to get to the point?
SO WHAT REALLY IS THE SECRET?
Managing stress! Really? Yes really? Here is the scoop: When you are under stress your body excretes hormones signaling it to store fat and burn muscle. OMG we are in danger let’s… hoard fat. When your diet is poor and overloaded with chemicals, the body creates new fat cells to house the toxins, and then metabolism slows. When your body is relaxed and happy, digestion occurs effortlessly and your body can easily absorb all the nutrients even if you do indulge occasionally. “Stress can be a weight gainer”. Again everybody is unique! And certainly extreme stress, like grief and loss can do the exact opposite and make you lose weight.
I saw how releasing stress can affect the managing of weight, echoed so many times with my clients when I counselled in nutrition or did workshops and talks. One woman told me that she had been on a vacation and ate things she loved that were not on her “diet”, but she was so happy and relaxed that she was shocked that she didn’t gain any weight.
So learn some stress managing techniques (my book has a number of them to choose from) and “chillax” more. Meditating is wonderful at slowing it all down and helping you relax and tune into what is really important! A relaxed body can easily absorb all the nutrients and will not be hoarding fat.
Take time to enjoy and if you find your face in a piece of chocolate cake…please just enjoy! Let go of the guilt. You can make a different choice next time:)