You are what you eat. We all know this. It’s important to choose healthy food to put in our bodies. We all think about what we eat...at least a little bit, but have you considered HOW you eat?
The practice of conscious eating is not something too many of us are in the habit of doing. Even though I KNOW how important it is, I still have a hard time with it, as I do with meditation sometimes. I need to be very deliberate, but I do make the effort. Not every meal, but as often as I can. More often I find a happy medium. As with anything else, practice helps and makes it come more naturally.
So what do I mean when I say conscious eating? I mean being fully conscious of the act of eating. Focusing on it. When you eat food, fully chew it. Pay attention to how it tastes. Think about how it is nourishing your body. Feel grateful for it. Set your fork down between bites, and fully finish chewing and swallowing one bite of food before scooping up the next. Paying close attention to when your body feels satisfied, and stopping rather than over filling. It also means, just eating. Not watching TV, reading your email, or scrolling Facebook. Doing these things while you eat takes your attention elsewhere, and it’s a lot harder to be conscious of what you are taking in, chewing, and when you are full.
What are the benefits to this? So many things! I’m going to give you a few.
Really improved digestion is one benefit! Most of us don’t chew our food nearly enough. Chewing is the first step to digestion, and one that your body can’t make up for once the food is on it’s way into your digestive system. Chewing breaks the food down into smaller particles which makes it easier for your body to digest. There’s also enzymes present in your saliva that start to break your food down as you chew. If you don’t chew well enough, you are literally missing the first step to digestion. Breaking the food down into smaller particles and exposing it to the enzymes available in your saliva both make the food that enters your digestive system much easier to digest, and makes the nutrients in your food much more available for your body to absorb. Healthy digestion is the cornerstone to good health. For your body to get what it needs to be healthy, your digestive system needs to be able to absorb the nutrients you are taking in. Chewing each bite thoroughly can improve this greatly. It can also help tremendously with various digestion issues. Try chewing 25 times and see how different that feels.
If you practice conscious eating, you will generally eat a lot less. This can lead to achieving or maintaining a healthy weight, which as we all know can affect all aspects of our health. I realize this is not a bonus for everyone, but many of us eat beyond what our body needs, and that can lead to digestive issues, excess weight, diabetes, and so many other health issues. When you take your time with each bite of food, you tend to feel satisfied sooner, you recognize when your body is full and stop eating. We also enjoy what we eat (hopefully!) and sometimes overeating simply happens because we don't want to stop eating the deliciousness! When you take your time with every bite, we are likely to feel more satisfied emotionally with our meal as well.
Studies have found that when you focus on eating your lunchtime meal consciously, you are less likely to snack that afternoon, or you don’t snack as much. Perhaps when your brain is conscious of how much you are eating, it remembers that you are nourished and and you are less likely to reach for more!
Conscious eating can change your relationship with food for the better. Most of us have some emotions wrapped around our relationship with food. Dysfunctional relationships with food and our bodies are things that many of us struggle with. Focusing on a sense of gratitude for the food you are eating, enjoying it, and learning to stop when your body feels satisfied can work to change your relationship with food to a much more healthy one, and allow you to let go of the emotional eating cycle.
Everybody’s body is different. What foods work great for one person may make another person feel awful. Food sensitivities and overconsumption of sugar can cause inflammation, bloating, headaches, indigestion, mood swings, and a myriad of other health issues. Eating mindfully puts us more in the moment to really pay attention to how the foods we eat make our body feel. Did your lunch make you feel energized, or low energy? Did your breakfast make your stomach rumble all morning or did it digest really quickly? Did you have an emotional crash a couple of hours after your afternoon latte and cookie? Having awareness around this can change what you are choosing to put in your body and how it makes you feel. It can make it a lot easier to make better choices.
I’d like to suggest giving conscious eating a shot. Sitting down and being fully present with every bite of a meal can make eating a whole different experience for you. The more you practice that, the more you will become aware of how well you are chewing and when your body is full during all meals, even when there’s great conversation or other things going on.