This Is An Opportune Time To Indulge In Mindful Eating

The holiday season may seem a ridiculous time to begin the practice of eating more mindfully.

Who, after all, wants to be mindful of eating extra sweet treats that send glucose levels on a roller coaster ride?

Yet, a good understanding of what mindful eating is - being attentive to what we consume without passing judgement on ourselves - makes this season of tasty temptations an opportune time to eat with added awareness.

Why Mindful Eating Helps

Feeling shame, remorse, or disgust about overindulging never seems to help people avoid future food temptations, at least not for long. By contrast, being attentive without guilt-tripping ourselves allows access to our body’s inner intelligence, its innate wisdom, something we are far more likely to respect than the nagging voice of dietary do’s and don’ts in our head.

The effects of being in touch with our inner intelligence were demonstrated in a six-week pilot study at the Oregon Research Institute. In this study, the overweight participants engaged in an “eating focused mindfulness-based intervention” that resulted in significant weight reduction, positive changes in eating behaviors, and reduced mental distress.

Being mindful of our actions has powerful consequences because instead of falling headlong into automatic behaviors, typically fueled by emotion, we begin to make more conscious food choices. However, even if we choose to ignore our body’s wisdom and indulge our appetites, mindfulness still pays off. By remaining non-judgmentally aware of thoughts and feelings, of the sensual pleasure of food, and of how our body feels before during and after partaking, we add to our body’s store of experiential knowledge. This knowledge can guide us later.

Unmindful vs Mindful Eating

Let’s say, for example, that you desire an unwise extra helping of sweet potato casserole loaded with brown sugar and marshmallows; or, a couple ill-advised iced sugar cookies call to you from the office break room. The difference between habitual eating, and mindful eating might look something like this:

    Habitual Eating. You want the potatoes, or cookies. You love the taste, just the thought of it triggers pleasant memories. As you go ahead and eat the food stress and anxiety melts away—it is so delicious, so comforting, and you can make up for the calories or carbs later, or tomorrow, or next month. Guilt is skillfully pushed to a nether region of the mind where it transforms into another tiny, but noticeable smudge on your diabetes management conscience.

    Mindful Eating. You want the potatoes, or cookies. You love the taste—just the thought of it triggers pleasant memories. You take note of those memories crowding your mind, of how your body is feeling (e.g., tired, energized, stressed, hungry, satisfied), and acknowledge the desired food will provide a temporary emotional uplift that you crave. Your inner intelligence recommends “no,” and now you have a choice to make.

    If you refuse the extra pile of potatoes, or the cookies, you note your thoughts about the choice, plus any physical or emotional reactions. You might opt for a healthier alternative, or not.

    If you choose the potatoes or cookies, then every bite is mindfully chewed. You are aware of the flavor and texture festival going on in your mouth, and of your feelings and thoughts while you eat. Afterward, you take responsibility for the choice by acknowledging the body’s internal responses to it, and any mental or emotional reactions.

Though highs and lows may occur no matter how well we dine, the beauty of practicing mindful eating is that it eventually creates an ever present awareness of, and connection to, our body’s intelligence. We may not always make the best choice, but this wisdom remains a constant influence for well-being in our life.

Source: Chopra

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