Mindful Eating for the Holidays - with a practice you can use!Oct 19, 2022
Yoga is the practice of being in healthy, sustainable relationship with yourself, your community and the world around you. That includes your relationship with food since it is one that you’ll have every day for the rest of your life. Like many relationships, it will have blissful moments, and rocky ones. Some seasons may be worse than others.
If you, like many of us, have a complicated relationship with food, adopting a mindful eating practice can help negotiate some of the challenges. However, there is no quick-fix, 5 step plan or short term fad diet here. Like restoring other relationships, the process begins with awareness through observation. You might also choose to identify the different types of hunger you experience, and practice deepening your self-compassion as you move through the peaks and valleys of your journey.
In this post, let's explore how you might maintain your relationship with the food that nourishes you in a way that feels safe, accessible, and adaptable. One way is through adopting a mindful approach to eating.
A note about eating disorders: This practice may raise unique challenges for individuals with experience of eating disorders. I live with one and recognize that this is not always an appropriate practice for me. Also, over COVID Eating Disorders Associations have reported a significant increase in calls and messages for help as compared to a year ago. If you or someone you know is or may be experiencing disordered eating, mindful eating is not intended to replace traditional treatments and ,that support from a physician and care team should be sought.
A note about food insecurity: COVID and global events have resulted in an increase in cost of staple foods, as well as food shortages. If you (or someone you know) are struggling to access enough food to keep yourself or your family healthy, there are several options to help. Please feel free to reach out if you’d like resources.
What is mindfulness and how does it relate to yoga therapy?
Mindfulness means paying attention to what’s happening right now. In the eight limbs of yoga, this is the practice of dhyana or focused attentiveness to your thoughts, emotions and body sensations in the present moment. The practice includes accepting your experience without judgment, labels (good, bad, etc) or seeking to change a situation. You can do this practice to help you feel more calm and change how you cope with stress and frustration instead of recalling the past which can make us depressed, or imagining the future which can make us anxious.
As a yoga therapist, I help you cultivate your mindfulness practice by encouraging you to:
- Participate fully in your experience with as much attention as you can bring. This means not multitasking
- Bring a beginners approach and deliberately observe with curiosity and kindness instead of judgment
- Be attentive and recognize that what is happening is in the present moment, with the understanding that it is not permanent and will pass
- Accept what is happening, and it's passing, with equanimity
- Refocus when your mind wanders, as it is supposed to
What are the benefits of applying mindfulness to eating over the holidays?
Mindful eating has ongoing benefits, but can be especially useful over the holidays when we experience the impacts of increased stress, consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates,decreased levels of serotonin due to shorter days, and changes in your exercise program. These benefits include:
- Improved digestion because you deliberately spend more time at the first point of digestion – chewing
- Improved nutrient absorption because of improved digestion
- Increased satisfaction with food, and increased awareness of when you’re physically full due to deliberate pausing
- Increased appreciation of food and how it gets to you
- Lower cortisol levels which may reduce stress induced weight retention
Mindful Eating Practice
You might begin each meal with a recognition of what you are eating, and gratitude to all those involved in getting this food to you. If you already have a practice, please use that. If you do not, you can try this practice from Plum Village. To do this practice, read these contemplations out loud before you eat.
This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard and loving work.
May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive this food.
May we recognize and transform unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed and learn to eat with moderation.
May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that reduces the suffering of living beings, stops contributing to climate change, and heals and preserves our precious planet.
We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, build our community, and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.
On a daily, or weekly basis, you can try these 9 steps to attentive eating, using all your senses, for the first few bites of a snack or meal.
- Touch: First, take the food and hold it in the palm of your hand or between your finger and thumb. Notice the texture, temperature and sensation. What does it feel like? Allow yourself to be curious!
- See: Use your beginners mind to explore seeing this food like you’re seeing it for the very first time and have never even seen anything like it before. Note the angles, colours, shadows, spaces, ridges or textures. Maybe adopt the perspective of an artist and notice as much as you can about how it looks.
- Touch with your eyes closed. Explore it with your fingers, turning it over in your hand, feeling its texture. Notice it’s weight. Observe its smoothness or roughness, it’s temperature, its angles.
- Smell: With your eyes closed, hold the food just under your nose and inhale deeply. With each breath, notice any smell or fragrance.Notice any other sensations you may experience in your body. Is your mouth watering? Your stomach growling? An urge to put the food in your mouth? Be a curious observer of your body’s reactions.
- Listen: Hold the piece of food up to your ear and move it slowly between your fingers, perhaps squeezing or rubbing it gently.Depending on what it is, it may make some sound as you do this. Or it may be silent. Just notice whatever sounds it may make.
- Place the food in your mouth without chewing:Notice how it gets into your mouth in the first place - that your hand and arm know exactly where to go. Observing the sensation of having the food your mouth, exploring its texture, shape, and taste with your tongue.Notice the urge to chew the food, but refrain from doing so for now.
- Taste: When you feel ready, prepare to chew the food, noticing how and where it needs to be in your mouth for chewing. Then, very consciously, take one or two slow bites into the food and notice what happens. Notice the waves of taste come from the food as you continue chewing. Observe how it changes texture, moment by moment.Notice the urge to swallow, but don’t do it quite yet. Just focus your full attention on all the sensations — taste, texture, the feelings of your mouth as you chew.
- Attentive Swallowing:When you feel ready to swallow the food, see if you can first detect the intention to swallow as it comes up, so that even this action is experienced consciously before you actually swallow.
- Notice where the food goes:As you swallow, see if you can feel what is left of the food moving down your throat and into your stomach. See if you can sense it as it moves down, and notice when you can no longer detect it.
- Notice: Be attentive to how your body as a whole is feeling after completing this exercise.Notice any urge to immediately take another bite of the food. Notice any lingering taste in your mouth, any sensations in your stomach, any judgments about liking or disliking the food.
How you can build a sustainable practice
- Eat from a place of appreciation, and not of guilt.
- Eat food that you have grown, purchased, and prepared with gratitude for those abilities.
- Eat in good company, with people who nourish you instead of eating alone, or with the TV, or in secret.
- Notice and enjoy each piece of food, instead of inattentively consuming larger volumes without noticing.
- Eat in a relaxed environment when you can take your time instead of on a deadline
- Eat with happiness and gratitude, instead of with stress and contemplating exercise or how much you'll have to detox.
Build your practice slowly and gently. Connect it with existing habits and add more as you're ready. Remember that your relationship with food is ongoing. You can always start again if the practice falls away. Practice in community. Maybe build in a regular snack break with a friend, or add a mindful family meal once a week.
Schedule your free no obligation call now to learn more about the practice of mindful eating. This practice will help you reconnect with your body, breath and mind so you can achieve your goals and feel your best.
Feel more energized, focused and mindful.
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