Today we have a great food story from Jared at a A Mindful Moment. This article really resonated with me on a number of levels. Especially regarding the the cognizance of what one choose to put in their body. Many years ago, a family member was very ill and part of the treatment was a very restrictive diet. Most patients with this condition found the regimen too challenging and just threw their hands up in defeat. I was not about to go this route and started studying nutrition and working on the diet. You can read more about this here, if you like, but the gist of the story is that my mother exceeded her doctors expectation of life expectancy by five years. The only thing we did differently was to really be careful about every ounce of food that went into her mouth. I remember having this a-ha moment where I told my mom that everyone should know what’s in the food they’re eating. I believe in freedom of choice and I sometimes choose to eat things that are not positive for my body but I feel like everyone should know what’s in the food they eat. Now, many years later, I work in healthcare and have a true passion for food and nutrition. I didn’t mean to babble on for quite so long but I hope you enjoy this article as much as I did.
A Mindful Diet
Eating – from buying food, to preparing food, to eating food – is a habit. Paying attention to our eating habits, therefore, is vital to living healthily. Many people try to lose weight by sheer willpower: cutting back on sodas or some other sweet treat. This never works. Inevitably their habits rear up and people end up drinking their sodas and eating their snacks despite sincere intentions not to. The problem isn’t their willpower though; it’s just they still are buying the items they wish to cut out of their diet. Its called habit: if someone buys goodies week after week, year after year, they are going to develope a tendency so engrained they’ll have a hard time changing.
Habits develop because a certain type of lifestyle works for us. My uncle used to work at a diner where he would get free burgers, fries, and sodas. His eating habits changed because of this convenience – he began to eat burgers, fries, and sodas, every day. This diet worked for him. For years he didn’t have to buy or prepare any food, he didn’t have to go out of his way for meals, and he didn’t have to spend any money. It was convenient and cheap – but not healthy. Likewise, eating healthy is a habit. Your body literally comes to want vegetables and fruits. Fast food even loses its appeal.
I began cultivating mindfulness 4 years ago – since then I’ve lost 8% body fat, eat healthier, and enjoy my food more. Anyone can practice mindfulness because it’s nothing special, it’s just paying attention to what you are doing and how you are feeling.
At the grocery store, one may cultivate mindfulness by becoming aware of what goes in the shopping cart. If there is a bunch of carb foods (cereal, bread, bagels, pastas) simply pay attention to this. Similarly, if there is a bunch of snack foods (cookies, sweets, bars, chips, sodas) simply note it. That’s all. Don’t go put the unhealthy foods back on the shelf and try to magically change your diet – habits are ingrained which means you’ll end up buying unhealthy food anyways. And most importantly, don’t judge yourself or your habits. Just become aware of them.
When actually eating food, pause a moment before eating, just for a second, and try to taste your food. This sounds silly, tasting your food, but try it. Once I started doing this, taking a slight pause before putting food in my mouth and trying to taste what I was chewing on, I started noticing many things. Like how I would eat and think about other things and never really enjoy my meal. Often times, after a meal I would be surprised I had eaten all the food on my plate. It looked so delicious and was gone so quick! Or how I would chow down food and was always rushed. Practicing mindful eating forced me to slow down. It forced me to taste my food and savor it. It forced me to pay attention.
Once I began paying attention to how I was eating I began to become conscious of my eating habits. It’s weird how we all have habits we don’t really know we have. Eating is one such habit we usually don’t think about. I realized I had many unhealthy eating habits only after I began slowing down and paying attention. Some of these include: how I snacked late at night on Klondike bars, how I would eat food when I didn’t have anything to do, and how I would eat french fries at restaurants even though I was stuffed. My favorite old habit was cutting myself a fat chunk of cheese and wolfing it down as a snack between meals (that was my weak spot, a fat hunk of Monterey jack).
Once I started becoming aware of my eating habits, I would catch myself. And when I caught myself I could ask myself questions. Do I really need this Klondike bar? Am I hungry, or do I just want to eat because I’m bored? Do I need this much cheese?
And once I started catching myself, my habits started changing. At the store – I don’t need the fat block of Monterey jack, get the smaller one. I can never resist a Klondike bar; better not buy them in the first place. White bread? Why not whole wheat? And wait a minute – I don’t have any vegetables in my cart – I like carrots, I’ll get some of those. And I like bananas too, they are a good snack food, I’ll buy 7 of them and have one each day. And why don’t I do the same with apples, I’ll have an apple and a banana each day (to keep the doctor away).
Ok, you get it. Mindfulness helps one become aware of their habits. Awareness of habits allows them to begin changing them.
There’s a saying old habits die hard. Don’t become mindful and count how many pounds you start to lose, it isn’t like that. Mindfulness is something that is done day after day, year after year. It doesn’t take much effort but it does require patient application. Remembering to be mindful is harder than actually being mindful. And if you really want to lose weight, sure, start becoming mindful, but you got to do more than that. Read books on healthy eating, read articles online, start exercising routinely, keep a food journal, and learn to cook healthier foods. Read some health quotes. There’s a ton of different avenues.
Take a breath. You can begin being mindful right now. It’s a good time to start.