Zen and The Art of Eating

5 steps to eating healthier for life

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Grilled vegetables on a plate
To be successful in mindful eating, choose foods that are both nutritious and delicious.

Eat more vegetables, have fewer processed foods, cut back on sugar. Much of the advice we get about food is borne out of these principles.

And they’re good, important rules of thumb. But there’s much more to healthy eating than the collection of foods on your plate.

In fact, one big way to move toward healthier eating doesn’t involve a specific type of food, an exotic superfood, or a specific nutrient. Instead, it’s about learning to recognize when we’re actually hungry, making thoughtful decisions about what to eat, and being fully present in the moment when we are eating. To encourage healthier eating, it’s critical we really enjoy food and experience the physical and emotional sensations associated with it.

The practice of “mindful eating” isn’t new, but it’s gaining greater attention as overall mindfulness and meditation continue to grow in the spotlight.

So what exactly is mindful eating? According to The Center for Mindful Eating:

  1. Mindfulness is deliberately paying attention, non-judgmentally, in the present moment.
  2. Mindfulness encompasses both internal processes and external environments.
  3. Mindful eating involves using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body.

Mindful eating is “Eating with intention and attention, purpose and awareness,” says Dr. Michelle May, a physician, founder of the Am I Hungry mindful eating programs and author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. “When we have an intention, we know why we’re doing it, and that will affect every other decision around the process. If my intention is to feel better when I’m done than I did when I started, one of the results is that I will choose to eat when I’m hungry,” May continues. “I will choose foods that are a balance between nutritious and delicious. If I choose food that’s too much of one or the other, I won’t feel satisfied when I’m finished. I’ll feel like something was missing, because it was. I’ll also eat the right amount of food; too little and I’d be hungry, too much and I’d feel overly full and even tired.”

STEP 1: ASK WHY YOU WANT TO EAT
May says the first step when getting ready to eat is to ask yourself, “Am I hungry?” “Is the desire to eat coming from physical hunger, or is it an environmental trigger or an emotional response?” she says.

STEP 2: REACT BASED ON THE SITUATION
Tailor your response to that question accordingly. If you’re not hungry, but there’s a party at work, someone brought in brownies and you desire a brownie, have it. But sit down and savor it, instead of shoving it down while walking back to your desk.

STEP 3: REMOVE THE GUILT
Mindful eating also involves removing guilt and shame from eating. “It’s an inside-out approach,” May says. “It’s not about whether I should eat, or whether it’s good or bad, it’s about my intention.”

STEP 4: IGNORE DISTRACTIONS
Eating mindfully doesn’t mean you have to sit alone in a silent room, focusing on the act of chewing.

“You don’t have to sit quietly in a meditative environment,” May says. “Minimize distraction while you eat, but use mindfulness as a tool to help you eat in a way that’s most enjoyable for you no matter what situation you’re in.

STEP 5: NOTICE YOUR FOOD
Once you’ve made the decision to eat, “we can focus on food as a sensual experience,” May says. “Notice the textures, flavors, aromas–so that we then get enjoyment out of every bite. Doing that increases satiety, and increases the likelihood that we’ll stop eating when the pleasure begins to decrease, rather than using an empty plate as the guide. We stop eating when we’ve had enough.”

“Ultimately it helps bring us back to that childlike enjoyment of food,” says May, “while also using our adult wisdom to make decisions about food.”

Try these three recipes to mindfully revel in: