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Intuitive Eating: Slow Down And Smell The Coffee

Literally. But there’s much more to it than that. ‘Mindful eating’ can help you feel better emotionally and, in combination with sensible dietary guidelines, make you look and feel better physically, too. It’s a great way to counteract the unhealthy behaviours we all get sucked into in our ever-more-stressful lives…

Fat Bastard Unhappy - © Austin Powers Movie FranchiseThe eternal dilemma of the mindless eater…

Talk about stress! What more-stressful time can you recall in your life (regardless of your age) than the past 15 months of COVID-19 social distancing and extraordinary safety protocols? But this has just been an unwelcome revv-up of the kind of lives most of us have been living, anyway.

Deep down, we hate our lives

Even before the pandemic, too many of us were making a cup of coffee do for breakfast, skipping lunch, and overeating greedily at supper – not to mention snacking on unhealthy crap from corner stores and vending machines all through the day. The result was overweight, unhappy people not performing at their optimum best, and amplifying their risk of obesity, heart disease, and a whole plethora of other diseases and conditions that plague modern society and cost our health care systems astronomical amounts of money that could be better spent preparing our world for the coming climate crunch. Okay. End of sermon.

As a society, we’re not happy with how we feel and look, and we wish we could to do something about that. Never have advertisers leaned more heavily on the archetype of the skinny, glamorous female and the ‘he-man’ male as images we should all aspire to – and could allegedly achieve (they tell us) by using their products. Never before have there been more home gym ‘systems’ on the market, all competing feverishly to convince you that you, too, can be like the perfect men and women they show in their ads if you just use their machines for an hour every day. They believe we’ll be enticed to buy because we covet the images they project – and we’re so desperate, we’ll lay out thousands of dollars for a solution to our ‘problem’.

But what if there was another way?

What if you could look better, feel better, and just generally get more out of life, without spending a whole lot of money or making a momentous commitment to the spin pedals or resistance weights?

The term ‘mindful’ has been growing in vogue across the developed world for a couple of years. According to an article by Joseph B. Nelson in the American Diabetes Association journal Diabetes Spectrum: “Mindfulness, a practice based on Zen Buddhism, has become popular as a way of self-calming and as a method of changing eating behaviors. Mindful eating is being incorporated into behavior change programs along with recommended dietary changes.

“Mindful eating (i.e., paying attention to our food, on purpose, moment by moment, without judgment) is an approach to food that focuses on individuals’ sensual awareness of the food and their experience of the food. It has little to do with calories, carbohydrates, fat, or protein. The purpose of mindful eating is not to lose weight, although it is highly likely that those who adopt this style of eating will lose weight. The intention is to help individuals savor the moment and the food and encourage their full presence for the eating experience.”

How do you do it?

Simple. At least, it sounds simple. I can tell you from personal experience, it takes some significant discipline and practice to get it right and start to feel the benefits.

Leanne Barrie from South Australia, an advocate of mindful eating, describes her experience with the process as a combination of slowing down and relating her eating behaviour to her entire environment: “I started to take time to appreciate the food and drinks I consumed, in all of their facets, with all of my senses. […] For example, when I drink coffee in a slow way, I think about what I enjoy about it. I drink the coffee with all my senses and the environment that I am in. I love having my coffee in a clear glass because I love to see the colour of coffee. I also appreciate the smell.”

You control the food, not vice-versa

On a conventional diet – whether you seek to lose weight or control some health-related condition – the food, and the rules that surround its choice, preparation and service control you. But with mindful eating, you control your food choices and eating habits.

Barrie says this can make eating an empowering experience: No food is off limits and it’s up to you to choose foods that you appreciate, and enjoy consuming mindfully. There are no limits on how much you eat, though Nelson notes: “It is not coincidental that, within a mindful approach, the person’s choices often are to eat less, savor eating more, and select foods consistent with desirable health benefits.”

My take

The Nelson article notes that doctors have suggested mindfulness training could be useful in helping diabetes patients accustom themselves to new, required dietary regimens. On a wider basis, it could also help people who have achieved weight loss on a conventional diet to keep the weight off. And, as many of us know, that’s always the hardest part – and where a diet ultimately fails.

I think there is a lot to recommend the mindful approach, to eating and to life in general. It ties in with ‘living in the moment’, which simply means enjoying what you are doing, wherever you happen to be, and whomever you are with – in the moment.

Like I said, it isn’t easy. But starting out by practicing mindfulness while eating may be easiest way to get into the overall swing of the thing.

~ Maggie J.

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