Food Presence: A Recipe for Healthy Eating
"A mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously as effectively as one." - Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell’s on multi-tasking
With technology moving at breakneck speed and demands on our time and attention increasing, it’s a brave new world out there.
Yet the fundamental and timeless challenge for people is as true as it ever was: how are we ever supposed to get it all done?
Unlike previous generations, we live in a world that, as Hallowell says, expects us to possess mythical powers to do many things well, all at the same time.
My advice: leave the juggling to the clowns.
The simple truth of life is that we can only give our full attention to one thing at a time. When we take on too much and expect to deliver meaningful results, we let down our families, our friends, our colleagues, our clients, and -- most importantly -- ourselves.
And this is true for all things in life, including eating.
People now eat in all kinds of places, public and private, while doing all kinds of things completely unrelated to eating.
We have subordinated eating to other activities, and this has a profound negative effect on our relationship with food and our health. We are less conscious of what we are putting in our bodies and how much we are ingesting -- two critical factors to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Let’s humor ourselves for a minute and think about how strange it would be to see an athlete playing a game while eating.
For example, could you imagine Serena Williams on the hard courts at the U.S. Open, holding a racquet in her right hand and a sandwich in her left hand? It’s crazy to even think about.
What kind of a result could she expect? Well, first of all, she’d probably lose because she couldn’t hit her signature two-handed backhand. Second, she’d probably lose all her sponsors and fans because they would feel she was not taking the game seriously. Finally, she’d probably get a stomach ache because she wouldn’t be paying attention to chewing and swallowing the sandwich (not to mention running around at the same time).
An extreme example for sure, but helpful.
Just because you may be sitting at a desk or reading a book and can eat doesn’t mean you should also be eating.
Eating should be performed as a single activity that gets your full attention.
Yet it’s rare we hear about why being “alone” with food is so important. When we’re “alone” with food we increase our food presence, which has profound positive effects on our diet, nutrition, health, and quality of life.
Let take a closer look why…
Have you ever been working hard on a project and decided to satisfy your hunger pains by enjoying a scrumptious treat?
After just a few moments you look down and realize somehow you’ve devoured every last morsel without any recollection.
The treat you were about to enjoy disappeared without you even looking, smelling, tasting, hearing … or even enjoying it.
Haven’t we all?
Being “food absent” is very common and a fundamental reason many women find it difficult to maintain a good diet.
Increasing “food presence,” a state of mind that brings deliberate, awareness to your food and senses, can create a whole new experience with benefits for both your health and eating habits.
So how to practice food presence?
Like a simple recipe, food presence requires little preparation and few ingredients that make it easy as pie (no pun intended) to put into practice.
The first step is to make sure you’re truly hungry.
Practice inner-body awareness to identify whether it’s your body or mind that’s signaling it’s time to eat. You can start by asking yourself: “On a scale of one to 10, how hungry am I, and where do I feel that hunger?”
You want to respond to the signals from your body, not your mind, and be somewhere between a five and a six on a hunger scale.
Here are some clues that your body needs energy:
- you experience light-headedness or dizziness
- your energy is very low
- you can’t concentrate
- you experience extreme hunger pains or salivation
Eating is too often done out of boredom or convenience, which not only adds unnecessary calories to your diet, but also prohibits you from experiencing the true pleasure of food when you’re actually fulfilling a real need.
You want to also get rid of or remove yourself from all distractions; TV, computer, cell phone -- basically anything with a screen. Look at eating time as a mini-date with your body and your food. This means you have a clean and comfortable place to sit eat and can give your food your full attention.
Finally, check that you’re free of emotions like anger, frustration, worry, sadness, or boredom. Internal distractions are a disruption to Food Presence, so resolve these feelings before you eat -- first through stress management tools (exercise, yoga, meditation), or by seeking the support of friends, family, or a health professional.
Once you’re prepared you need two things: your five senses and your breath. Yup, that’s all. Sight, touch, sound, taste, touch and a confirmation you’re alive.
Ensure you’re in a relaxed state with a steady breathing pattern by taking a few moments to focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale through the nose.
When you’re in a calm state you become more aware of your inner body and food options, creating the space needed to determine what you’re truly hungry for. If you’re in a stressed state, be it the day to day activities or internal turmoil, you’re less likely to give your full attention to your food, make poor nutritional choices, and eat absent minded.
On the other hand, when you’re stressed you release the stress hormone cortisol which boosts insulin, a hormone that signals the body to stop building muscle and store more fat. By increasing relaxation and mindfulness through rhythmic breathing, cortisol levels are decreased.
Pay attention to the whole eating experience. Take a few moments to look at your food and appreciate its appearance; its color, shape, texture, and presentation.
You might think about where it came from, how it was grown, and who prepared it; a perfect opportunity to center yourself and practice gratitude for the meaningful things in life and connect with your deeper self.
Take in any aromas the food is giving off. The sight and smells alone put the digestive system on alert--the mouth begins to water, the stomach contracts, and enzymes to start secreting chemicals that will break down the food. Before food even enters the mouth you’re digestive system is getting primed and ready to go.
As you go to eat, say, a carrot, listen to the crisp bites and crunching noises as you chew--continuing to pay attention to your breath. Take small bites, tune-in closely, and really taste all the flavors. Focus on how much you like or dislike the sensations you’re tuning into.
By becoming more aware of your foods subtle qualities, you begin to discover the hidden satisfaction that comes from heightened sensations.
Slowing down also gives your stomach time to signal to your brain that it is full, before you begin piling even more food on top of a full stomach. And chewing more slowly helps promote proper digestion because the digestion process begins with the saliva in your mouth, which helps reduce the load on the rest of your digestive track.
As you swallow, notice the food gently filling your stomach. If you’re focused on loading your forkful you aren’t paying attention to the one in your mouth. You’ll always anticipate the next bite instead of the one you’re eating now.
Food presence helps you to enjoy the entire eating experience with a measured consciousness that will help you tune into your inner body gravitate to the right foods and know when you’ve had enough to eat.
Try one thing at time, make it a practice, and you’ll find more enjoyment and fulfillment, make better choices, and feel better, lighter, and satisfied.
You can start with small things, like a snack, and work your way to full meals.
Like a great recipe, it takes time and testing, but if you keep it up you really get to savor the flavors.
To learn more about meditation, check out The Essential Guide To Meditation With Charlie Knoles.
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