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Health & Vitality

How To Eat Mindfully – Improving Your Health In The Most Natural Way

by Chris 'The Kiwi' Ashenden - 5 months ago

Learning how to eat mindfully is the simple solution that achieves much more than just weight-loss.

We’ve all said to ourselves that the one thing we’ll do for our health this year is to exercise, eat right, and lose weight.

This statement is shared and said with excitement, resolve, and with good intentions but often is hard to achieve.

When we think of picking healthy things to do, suddenly a long list appears in our heads. We need to cut back on sugar, simple carbohydrates, and get to the gym.

Which action is most important to our health? There are mental, food, and fitness choices that we can change from within to make a difference in our life.

But what if we chose to do something that could have a trickle-down effect and result in a real change that sticks? Would we do it?

To keep it simple, let’s start with how we view food in today’s world.

To Eat Mindfully Is To Have A New Perspective On Food

Making the change to accomplish that one thing to do for our health this year often begins with our minds. Reframing how we label food is a version of mindful eating.

Being aware of how we eat, what we eat, and the way we approach food can be that one healthy thing we do for ourselves this year.

What if we could mindfully eat and the other items on the list like cutting out soda or bread would just fall into place? Wouldn’t that be freeing?

That seems too good to be true, but for many cultures and according to many psychological experts and nutritionists, the practice of mindful eating actually works.

Our Noisy And Diet-Crazed Culture

We are surrounded by a lot of noise these days, and we can’t go online without seeing a headline about the latest fitness craze or diet.

We see images of celebrities and their unattainable bodies that are shaped by personal chefs and personal trainers.

We are told what not to eat all the time but then sit through TV commercials that tempt us to eat.

We are skinny-shamed when we are thin and fat-shamed when we’re fat; then we are told it’s ok to be fat and to own it even though it’s hurting our health.

All these voices around us can be very confusing. But the most important voice of all is our own, and we get to decide what our inner voice sounds like, especially when it comes to our attitude towards food.

The Truth About Dieting

We know we live in a diet-crazed culture. Every time we turn around someone is trying a new diet. According to Psychology Today:

We don’t need to read statistics to understand this cycle fully. We have all lived this and experienced the dieting yo-yo.

It’s important to point out that diets are temporary food plans that are difficult to adapt to everyday life experiences, choices, and situations.

Often when we cheat or fall off a restrictive diet, the shame, frustration, guilt, and failure kicks in, and we feel “bad” about the food we ate.

This failure rate with diets is why many experts including Dr. Christopher Willard, PsyD, encourage mindfulness in all aspects of life, but especially when it comes to food and eating.

Mindfulness doesn’t mask our approach to food with diet plans and fads – it deals with the mind and body connection at its root.

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What Does It Mean To Eat Mindfully?

Mindful eating can be broken down into simple steps. We need to understand what mindless eating is first before we can become aware of our habits and then engage in mindful eating.

Christopher Willard breaks down mindless/mindful eating at the well-known site mindful.org in the following terms:

Mindless Eating

  1. Eating past full and ignoring your body’s signals.
  2. Eating when emotions tell us to eat (i.e. sad, bored, lonely)
  3. Eating alone, at random times and places
  4. Eating foods that are emotionally comforting
  5. Eating and multitasking
  6. Considering a meal an end product

Mindful Eating

  1. Listening to your body and stopping when full
  2. Eating when our bodies tell us to eat (i.e. stomach growling, energy low)
  3. Eating with others, at set times and places
  4. Eating foods that are nutritionally healthy
  5. When eating, just eating (no TV or distractions)
  6. Considering where food comes from (from farm to table – an appreciation of the work and story behind the food)

Food Is Emotional

If there is one thing we can learn from nutritionist, Whitney Catalano, RD, it’s that food is emotional and it’s always going to be that way. We can never change that fact.

Smells and tastes emote feelings in us, but we can shift how we frame food and treat it.

A beautiful plate of homemade pasta from an Italian restaurant will evoke emotion in most people.

The mere smell of mom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies can make a child smile.

We’ve all heard ourselves say, “Wow. That meal hit the spot. It was just what I needed.” Food can stir up feelings in us, and it brings us joy as well as nutrition.

For thousands of years, people have come together to break bread and connect with loved ones. Food is celebratory, ritualistic, and relational.

There are family traditions like making homemade sauce and ravioli on Easter and crown roast on Christmas. These moments are ceremonial, and everyone looks forward to experiencing the meal together from preparation to table, and this is a memory to be shared and celebrated.

The Shame Game – Food is Just Food

The way we view food and label it is one of the many reasons we struggle with cutting refined sugars or giving up that favorite soft drink.

Society bombards us daily about food, diet, and fitness and how “bad” everything is for us. It’s no wonder we always feel we aren’t ever doing enough for our health.

We are all guilty of buying into this noisy garbage, and the one thing we can choose to do for our health this year was to stop labeling food “good” or “bad” because it is after all just food!

It is true that there are foods that are better and more nutritious than other foods. We also know about processed foods that add nothing to our health.

But labeling food, and stressing out over it takes up a lot of emotional space and leaves many of us riding that diet rollercoaster.

When we think this way, we find ourselves worrying too much about what to eat, and if we take one misstep, it throws us off our game and leads to failure.

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To Eat Mindfully Goes Beyond The Good vs. Bad Mentality

Whitney Catalano, RD, offers advice on the words “good” and “bad” in regards to food. She says we can choose to stop labeling food this way in our daily lives.

Let’s reflect on this idea; is lasagna itself bad? No. It’s just a little, innocent plate of tasty lasagna that never did anything to anybody. Most of us don’t want to avoid lasagna for the rest of our lives, so how do we deal with this situation?

For example, we visit our Italian grandmother’s house for lunch, and she puts down a plate of homemade lasagna in front of us when you are trying to be “good” about food?

Our first instinct is to immediately point out how “bad” this food is for us and why we shouldn’t be eating the lasagna.

As a principle, we probably shouldn’t eat lasagna every day. But all the emotional space it takes to worry about eating the lasagna isn’t worth it.

If we eat lasagna for lunch, then we should think about how wonderful it is, enjoy it, and then decide the next meal is simply a good, hearty salad.

Don’t waste any more energy on the dilemma over whether or not to eat the lasagna.

We can decide on what we want out of the next meal. In the meantime, we embrace the experience of this delicious piece of lasagna our grandmother prepared for us.

We don’t need five pieces of lasagna on our plate, just one piece will do. If we teach ourselves how to eat mindfully, that one piece may fill us up before we finish it. It’s amazing how little we need when we appreciate what we have.

Appreciate the food for what it is and how it got there, and then move on!

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Food Rituals That Harm Us

Everyone’s journey is personal when reframing our view on food choices and eating. If we want to be more mindful, then part of that journey is figuring out which mindless food rituals we can give up.

We all experience daily routines, one of which is morning coffee.

Some of us may say, “Just try to pry that coffee from my cold, dead hands and see what happens. Heads will roll!”

But there are other foods and drinks that we can live without such as soda, juices, and lemonade. Coffee may need to stay, and instead we choose to drink water the rest of the day for hydration and health.

There are other food rituals in our life that have overstayed their welcome and are killing our attempt at mindful eating.

Many Americans love to eat in front of the TV. According to two studies eating in front of the TV may cause us to eat more calories and gain weight.

Moreover, eating in front of the TV and ordering takeout is even worse. Living this lifestyle has helped us pack on the unwanted pounds and experience unwanted health symptoms such as back and knee pain and lethargy.

Getting Off The Couch And Back To The Table

Growing up and eating dinner at a table was the norm for many of us. Over time that has changed for families and singles. As we grow and begin living on our own, it’s easy to switch to the couch.

Mindful eating challenges us to try to eat at the table. At first, this can feel awkward and difficult to eat this way. Some of us will feel very alone and very single!

Many nutritionists suggest journaling while sitting at the table to counteract any feelings of loneliness.

It can be challenging to eat alone, but it does spark awareness of what is on our plates and helps us to remember to be appreciative of food.

According to the studies mentioned above, we will eat less, and our jeans will become looser. Being at the table builds awareness, eating with our Netflix does not!

Other cultures have been eating this way for centuries, and experience incredible health statistics, just taking a small page out of their playbook is working for many people who choose the practice of mindful-eating.

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Food As An Experience

There is more evidence to support mindful eating, by a country that has made mindful eating into an art form: the beautiful country of Italy.

Italians eat a lot of pasta, breads, cheese, oil, and meat yet their obesity rate is approximately 10% of the adult population.

Did you know that according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-third of US adults are obese?

That’s a dangerous number, and much of it has to do with a sedentary lifestyle and a nutritionally deprived diet, but there is also a mind/body component to our obesity rates here in America.

We need to slow down, stop, experience, and think about what we are eating and enjoy the moment.

We could theorize that outside of a Mediterranean diet, Italians eat with great consciousness. Their portions are smaller, and they eat slowly, enjoying each course and knowing when they are full.

This way of life is mindful eating at its very best. They don’t even realize they are eating this way; it’s just a part of life. On top of it all, they drink and eat dessert too!

They aren’t in a hurry, and their bodies and minds can process the experience, the entire meal, and a glass of wine, all while maintaining a healthy waistline.

In the US, just sitting down at a table to eat a meal seems like a big deal these days. We are in such a hurry all the time.

We don’t need to spend hours on this experience, but we do need to mindfully eat for our health. Just taking that small step to sit down, be conscious of the food we have prepared, and enjoying it is a step in a healthier direction.

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Oh, But That Mindless Takeout

At the end of a busy work day sometimes the last thing we want to do is prepare food. We order takeout even though there is food in the refrigerator. Does that sound familiar?

It’s easy to become the Takeout Guru in the age of Door Dash, Postmates, and Uber Eats.

Many of us are mindlessly ordering food. When the delivery people know our name, it’s time to hang the takeout up!

Takeout kills our waistline and our wallets, it has to go! Takeout belongs in the luxury pile, it’s a want and not a need.

No more wasting time with the food shaming and the emotional aftermath of a takeout binge in front of the TV.

Both takeout and TV feel like our best friends, but they are mindless and don’t add to our life. If we can quit this habit, it helps us eat consciously.

If ordering food is not in the budget, and there is food in the fridge that is nutritious, we have no reason to order it either.

Get ahead of the game by implementing meal planning. This means planning in advance what you’ll be eating for the week, and it can work wonders for mindfulness.

We’ve even created a free meal planning template that you can download free below.

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Food Journals And Mindfulness

Journaling is an act of mindfulness unto itself. Keeping a food journal in a daily planner is a great way to remember to keep track of what we are eating.

Tracking our food helps us to become aware and conscious of what we are putting into your bodies. As we’re creating a to-do list, we can just jot down what we’re eating.

There is no need to add up calories or to write about how bad we ate! We only need to write down what we’re eating.

Keeping a record of meals helps us to remember which foods made us feel energized and healthy and which ones made us feel depressed and tired.

It also leads to healthier food choices as we develop more and more mindfulness on what we’re consuming daily and how it makes us feel.

How Do You Practice Mindful Eating?

How do you practice mindfulness in your life? At Athletic Greens, we love to learn about how people are incorporating healthier choices into their lives.

Share your journey of mindfulness with us and next time you take a sip of your Athletic Greens, think about all the fantastic nutrients that are inside, and every plant that was sourced to create it!

Just enjoying a green drink on a regular basis and thinking about how much it’s helping your body and your mind may kick start you into the practice of mindful eating.

And don’t forget – grab your FREE meal planning template below.