The Pure Barre community is filled with strong, active and health conscious women (and men!), so it’s likely many of you have spent a good bit of time considering the ideal diet. With so much confusing, and often times conflicting information available, it’s hard to know what’s right. The truth is, there is no ideal diet, only what’s ideal for you. But before figuring out what diet is right for you, first, you must learn how to eat.
You may be thinking, “Of course I know how to eat. The food goes in your mouth, you chew, swallow, and that’s it!” But there’s more to eating than that. Have you ever opened a bag of chips while watching TV, only to realize most of it’s gone before you’ve tasted a single one? Do you struggle to turn off the internal critic when you eat? Have you already forgotten what you had for breakfast? If so, then you might need to learn how to eat. How to eat mindfully, that is!
Mindful eating is the practice of deliberately paying attention while eating, focusing on nothing but your food and how your body feels while eating it. Eating mindfully, you’ll notice how many chips you eat, when you feel full and possibly the copious amounts of grease and salt, making them less appealing. After learning to eat mindfully, you won’t feel guilt while savoring a cookie, but satisfaction. If you eat mindfully, you’ll remember every delicious bite of breakfast.
Mindful eating has many surprising benefits. Although it has nothing to do with what to eat, it helps many people lose and maintain weight by getting them in touch with feelings of fullness and hunger. Mindful eating is also being used to treat chronic eating disorders, including emotional eating, binge eating, anorexia and bulimia. Perhaps most importantly, eating mindfully fosters a healthy relationship with food and lets you savor and enjoy what’s on your plate.
Practice on something small. Wait until meal time when you’re hungry and exhausted from a day at work, and it will be difficult, near impossible to eat mindfully, especially for a newbie. First, practice on something small, like a carrot or an almond. Make yourself comfortable in a quiet place and examine your food. Observe every detail about its appearance – the color, texture, shape, way light bounces off it. Take a bite and savor the taste, texture, even how the food feels in your mouth. You’ll feel silly at first, but the more you practice this exercise, the easier it will be to eat mindfully!
Consider the four areas of mindfulness as you eat. First, check in on your mind? Is it present in the moment, or wandering to your to-do list? Then, examine how your body feels. Are you tired, or energized. Does your stomach feel empty, or relatively full? Next, consider your feelings about what you’re eating. Labeling foods as “good” or “bad” often brings up strong feelings, like guilt or regret. Finally, examine your thoughts. Does the food bring specific thoughts to mind, like memories or beliefs about the food?
Slow down. If you eat fast, there’s no way you’re doing it mindfully. There are many tricks you can use to slow down. Try eating with chopsticks, chewing 15-25 times before swallowing, or putting down your fork in between each bite.
Change your environment. It’s impossible to eat mindfully if you’re eating while driving, on a telephone conference or engrossed in an episode of Real Housewives. Sometimes distractions are unavoidable, but when you can, set up an eating environment conducive to mindfulness. Practice the chair/table/plate rule – eating only while sitting in a chair, at a table, on a plate. Put away your cell phone and shut down the computer. At the very least, turn off the TV.
Learning to eat mindfully is more complicated and challenging than it may initially seem. Unless you’re a Buddhist monk, you’ll find it impossible to eat mindfully 100% of the time. Don’t get discouraged. Just like with your Pure Barre practice, if you fully commit, set yourself up for success and practice regularly, you’ll continue to grow and succeed. Pretty soon, you’ll be eating mindfully without even trying or even knowing you’re doing it!
Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE is a private practice dietitian and food blogger at www.anavocadoaday.blogspot.com. She offers nutrition coaching nationwide via telephone and Skype.