Mindful Eating – What Does It Even Mean!?

I feel like the word “mindful” gets tossed around in so many settings that it’s lost a lot of its meaning. We hear it and think – ya ya – I know I need to be more mindful – and then we go back to doing what we always do.

But what does it look like when we DON’T go back to doing what we always do? How can we get curious about truly being mindful?

meditation, presence, spiritual-567593.jpg

Mindfulness is defined as;
“a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”

The 3 Qualities of Mindfulness – before you get bored here – I WILL come back to food – promise!

According to the University of Minnesota Health Sciences department, there are 3 qualities of mindfulness

– Intention to cultivate awareness (and return to it again and again).

– Attention to what is occurring in the present moment (simply observing thoughts, feelings, sensations as they arise).

– Attitude that is non-judgmental, curious, and kind.

Makes sense, right?

How Do These Qualities Apply to Eating Though?

In a perfect case scenario, you sit down to eat a meal. You’re in a reasonably relaxed state, you’re smelling the food you’ve cooked so digestive enzymes are starting to be released in your mouth, your brain is registering how the food will taste, you are cultivating awareness about the meal in front of you.

Quality 1? ✅

As you eat your meal, you chew your food slowly, savouring the tastes and textures. Perhaps you’re sitting with family and friends and you are enjoying a bit of laughter and the camaraderie and feeling in the moment.

Quality 2? ✅

You are getting so much pleasure from the meal in front of you that you feel ZERO guilt. You take great pleasure in the melt in your mouth dessert and make no deals with God for not allowing it to settle on your hips.

Quality 3? ✅

Of course, this is a fictional scenario that I completely made up and I do get that this is not your life (or mine many times!)

Ah #lifegoals 

But This Is Real Life

Instead, what typically happens is we make our food in a rush is this:

We focus on the next 6 things (at least) that need to happen before we can call it quits for the day.
We eat at our desks, on kitchen counters, and in our cars – always racing towards the next thing
, and we barely even chew our food, let alone savour it!

So no – we’re not typically mindful of our meals, and it’s hurting us!

Here Are 4 of the Ways That Eating While Stressed Can Hurt Us

  1. When we are in a stressed state, our body shuts down any and all systems that are not needed to handle stress.  One of those systems, of course, is the digestive system.  Think about it, if you’re running from a saber-toothed tiger, your body isn’t worried about the food you just ate.  It’s pumping ALL of its energy into your limbs to help you to escape.  The fact that your food is rotting away is of no consequence. The blood is pumping to your limbs and away from your digestive system.
  1. Digestive enzymes are released in the mouth with the smell of food and continue to be released as we chew our food and then as it enters the stomach.  When we are stressed, we make less digestive enzymes so we cannot properly break down our food, leading to gas, bloating, heartburn, and reflux. 
  1. Stress contributes to inflammation which contributes to leaky gut.  Leaky gut contributes to all manner of things that go wrong with the human body including allergies, skin issues (eczema, psoriasis, rashes, acne and more) candida, sleep issues, weight gain, IBS, auto-immune conditions, anything that ends in ‘itis’, mood disorders, anxiousness and more. 
  1. When we are stressed, the vagus nerve that runs from the Central Nervous System into the Stomach, tenses.  The vagus nerve is responsible for the gut/brain connection and must be in a relaxed state to encourage the rest and digest response (or parasympathetic state).  We simply cannot digest our food when we are in a stressed state!

So How Can We Fix It?

Believe me when I say that I get that all of these things can be easier said than done.

We live busy lives.
Often, it feels like we will never catch up to all of the things we need to do – and you know what? That’s probably accurate!

If you’ll never catch up anyway, then why not put your digestive health on the front burner for a wee while and see how your health changes for the better?

Start by;

– Preparing your food whenever possible.  This releases digestive enzymes in the mouth to start breaking down carbohydrates in your food.  It’s important!

– Take 3-5 deep breaths before SITTING DOWN to eat.

– SIT DOWN to eat.  Choose a place where you can let go of the tension of the day – be it your kitchen table, a park bench, your front porch, or anywhere else where you don’t feel pressured to perform tasks (like you do when you sit at your desk).

– Play music you love while you eat.

– Chew your food!  Your stomach doesn’t have teeth.  When you chew, you release digestive enzymes to help to break down your food which will reduce bloating, gas, reflux, and heartburn.

– Eat with friends and/or family whenever possible. Laugh – tell stories about your day – enjoy the company of another.  It’s a great way to relax the Vagus Nerve and get your body into the rest and digest state of being.

Our Ancestors Had It Right

This is definitely something that we’ve lost in our fast-paced lives.  Gosh.
I remember my grandparents (Italian – need I say more?) having huge tables filled with all of the relatives with music playing and everyone laughing and really, really good food – that was really, really not the best for us!!! But man oh man, the community and the feeling of love around that table?  There just is no describing how that feels to our souls – and how it reduces stress, not just for digestion but for so much more.

To me, that’s mindful eating.

I’m really not the kind of girl who’s going to sit and contemplate slowly what I’m eating. I’m just not.  But I will sit around a table for a long ass time if my family is there with me and I can hear them tell me about their lives.

Community makes all of the difference, don’t you think?

Vickie Dickson with an apple in her hand

Are you ready to take your eating habits to the next level? Then pull up a chair at Vickie’s Table for tips and tricks on becoming a healthier person, as well as a community of others that share your journey! 

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