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Eating Mindfully: An Introduction and Overview

This year, National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is February 26-March 3, 2012. In recognition of this significant event, my thoughts are with both the individuals suffering from a diagnosed eating disorder as well as with the individuals who fall outside of the diagnostic box yet who suffer daily in many ways. As a medical professional treating people with eating disorders and related issues, I understand firsthand that these individuals long for a life of balance and wise nourishment yet find themselves eating in unhealthy ways, often causing weight gain and distress. Emotional eating can become a way of life, leaving a person feeling trapped and at the mercy of their thoughts, feelings and habitual behavior.

Learning to eat mindfully is the key to developing a healthy relationship with oneself regarding food and eating choices. Developing a practice of mindfulness is the heart of living and eating mindfully. Mindfulness teaches us to become aware of our bodies, our thoughts, and our feelings without the habit of making something “good” or “bad”. We become more compassionate toward ourselves, more forgiving ~ responding as a loving friend might rather than a prisoner, already guilty. Being mindfully aware when we approach food, we are able to welcome our thoughts and feelings as simply visitors, here for only the moment, to teach us something about ourselves. In this way, we free ourselves from the tyranny of our thoughts and feelings and become able to wisely choose how to think, feel and act in difficult situations involving our relationship to food.

It is very normal to feel uncertain when first embracing mindfulness at the table. Creating a mindful eating practice means simply becoming more curious and aware while eating ~ yet the whole concept can appear overwhelming at first. Considering awareness in three distinct areas can make creating a mindful eating practice much easier.

First, think of mindfulness experiences that come from the physical world. These include what we are able to sense by being alive: sight, touch, smell and taste. Then think of inner awareness: what we’ve learned from our past and thoughts we have constructed about former experiences. Finally, consider what feelings arise while eating. And with compassion, welcome these feelings, increasing awareness.

A good rule of thumb in nurturing a mindful eating practice is to pause before a meal, being grateful for the nourishment. Then observe: what does the food look like, smell like, and taste like? And finally, be selective: eat what you want and what is nourishing; eat just enough for your body at the time (eating slowly, chewing each bite before taking the next bite); continue awareness of your feelings, thoughts and behavior as you complete your meal.

Ultimately, we learn the most important aspect of nutrition is not only about what is best to eat, but how our relationship to food can teach and inform us about who we are and how we can sustain ourselves at the deepest level of being. And from this private and sacred part of ourselves, we can begin to open to the vastness and beauty of life unseen before now.

“Make Eating Mindful”: 8 simple steps to mindful eating

Practicing mindfulness at mealtimes can help break unhealthful eating patterns and tune into the pleasures that food has to offer. Use the following guidelines to support your mindful eating practice, replacing criticism with compassion and judgment with joy.

1. Be sure you are hungry:
Eat intuitively ~ as your body tells you ~ and with enjoyment and pleasure

2. Be grateful:
Before each meal, take a moment to breathe
Think about the food, where it comes from and the nourishment it offers

3. Eat with all five senses:
Look at the food, its colors and textures.
Smell the aroma
Notice sensations as the food moves into your body

4. Eat “as if” the whole world is watching

5. Eat without distraction ~ or with as little distraction as possible

6. Look behind the craving:
If “craving” is present, sit with it for a few moments
Jot down the emotions and feelings you are having
Watch the cravings rise..and fall

7. Eat one meal a week or more in silence, mindfully:

8. Choose acceptance:
If you do overeat, don’t punish yourself by starving the next day
Accept what has already occurred and remember: failure in not falling down but staying down

Above all be flexible with yourself. Healthful eating is like the practice of yoga: each day is different, each hour is different. Allow yourself to eat what nourishes you each day rather than sticking to a rigid routine. Eating mindfully is a practice, taking time and patience. Be kind to yourself and never do anything that is less than in your very best interest. A new life awaits!

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