Practicing Mindfulness in Eating: Dr. Adrienne Stewart shows how becoming more aware of our eating habits allows us to start making healthier choices that will empower our lives and our health
Dec 04, 2012 08:52AM
● By Adrienne Stewart, NMD
Being mindful means allowing our consciousness to rest fully on what we are doing in the moment. Constantly bombarded by information, it is easy to become distracted and disconnected from the present. When this happens, we make choices unconsciously that aren't always in our best interest, such as grabbing a candy bar for a snack. Becoming more aware of our eating habits allows us to start making healthier choices that will empower our lives and our health.
Mindful eating also helps us to recognize when we are full before we overeat, savor the flavors and textures of the foods we are eating, calm our parasympathetic system for improved digestion and make better food choices. Mindful eating includes all aspects of preparing food, from shopping to cooking to eating.
Many choices begin with where and how we shop. While many stores now carry organic groceries, it is also a good idea to support local farmers’ markets, because they provide fresh, seasonal, organic foods and we are supporting the local economy.
It is a great idea to start with organic meat and produce. The Environmental Working Group publishes “The Dirty Dozen,” a list of produce with the highest exposure to pesticides. These 12 foods are best to buy organic. Their list of “The Clean Fifteen” is lowest in pesticides and not as essential to buy organic. When buying meat, look for grass-fed, grass-finished, free range and organic meats. For fish, try wild-caught. Another helpful tip is to shop around the perimeter of the grocery store, because that is where to find fresh whole foods, rather than the highly processed boxed and canned foods in the center aisles.
If there are food sensitivities, learn where to find gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan options. Experiment with different brands and recipes and focus on changing bad habits by not buying junk foods and candy. Replace those foods with healthy snacks that can be grabbed on the go. If it’s there at home, it will likely be eaten, so make healthy choices in the store.
Meal planning is an excellent way to bring mindfulness to cooking. Set time aside for meal preparation by planning the night before, preparing meals during the weekend or using crockpot recipes, all easy ways to prepare healthy meals for the entire family.
One of the most important aspects of mindful cooking is to engage in the present moment with the food we prepare: try new recipes, experiment with new spices and remember to have fun. Cooking, smelling and being mindful of food helps stimulate digestive enzymes that start digestion before taking the first bite.
Remember to be mindful of snack choices, as well. Preparing healthy snacks in advance can help avoid reaching for a regrettable quick fix. Spend time washing and chopping veggie sticks so they are ready to go in the refrigerator. Another way to avoid unhealthy snacks is to eat before becoming famished. Eating regular meals throughout the day balances blood sugar and avoids binging when hunger calls.
When sitting down to enjoy a meal, try engaging all the senses. Become aware of the textures, smells, colors and taste of the food. Also be aware of your body. Notice when hunger is satiated and stop eating when full, rather than when the plate is empty.
One of the most important aspects of mindful eating is to focus on the process rather than multi-tasking. Avoid watching TV, doing work or checking email while eating to avoid unconscious food choices. One way to do this is to set the table and eat as a family, taking the time to relax, connect and talk about the day.
Make sure to chew and breathe at a steady, moderate pace. Chewing improves digestion and breathing helps relax the nervous system. Try setting the fork down between bites to help slow down the process.
Gratitude is an important aspect of mindful eating, whether saying a prayer or simply giving thanks. Consciously send gratitude to everyone that helped bring the food to the table—the farmers that grew the food, the grocery store employees that worked to keep the food fresh and yourself, for cooking and preparing such a healthy meal.
Practicing at Integrative Health, in Scottsdale, Dr. Adrienne Stewart empowers patients that are struggling with fatigue, hormone imbalances or poor digestion by providing natural and effective treatment and prevention strategies. She specializes in fertility, preconception health and environmental medicine. For more information, visit MyIntegrativeHealth.com.