Why mindfulness should play a role in your meals.
Cat Kom joined up with Registered Dietitian and Rockstar, Miriam, to talk about how to eat. We obviously don’t mean “chew your food 100 times” and we’re not talking about eating your protein before your carbs exactly. What Cat and Miriam want to talk about today is how we feel emotionally when we’re eating, and how that relates to how we feel physically.
Many of us have scarfed down a meal when we’re anxious, nervous, angry, or in a rush. We’re living frantic lives and often eating at our desks or grabbing a to-go meal for some dashboard dining.
Miriam typically eats the same big salad for lunch, loaded with lots of healthy yumminess both at work and at home, but recently she noticed feeling bloated and uncomfortable following lunches at her desk. She felt much better eating the exact same salad when at home, relaxed after a workday. Same food, different time. What gives?
Let’s talk about the science behind digestion.
Your sympathetic nervous system kicks in when you’re anxious, stressed, or in danger. This is the “fight or flight” system. Your hormones will give you a burst of alertness and your heart rate will go up. Here’s the problem with eating in this state – the sympathetic nervous system moves blood AWAY from your digestive organs. This is why you may feel bloated or experience other digestive troubles following a stressful meal.
Your parasympathetic nervous system is sometimes known as the “rest and digest” system. This system relaxes the body, conserves energy, and increases intestinal activity. Blood flow is directed to your gastrointestinal system and food is digested in an efficient manner.
What Miriam realized is that when she was eating at her desk, she was rushing through the routine of the meal, but wasn’t being mindful of the meal. Instead, she was allowing stressors to take over her lunchtime. In order to readjust and allow the parasympathetic nervous system to play its role, she recommends you slow down and become more mindful of your eating.
What’s mindful eating?
Use your 5 senses as you eat:
- Smell your food.
- Look at the plate. Think about the colors, shapes, and portions you are seeing.
- Taste the food. This seems so obvious, but how often are you eating the same food over and over again and you don’t even consciously notice the taste?
- Feel your food. Miriam eats with her hands a lot and appreciates the feel of the food. This is a great way to really connect mind and body with your meal. Just be sure you washed your hands really well first!
- Listen to the meal. A variety of texture in your food will stimulate your touch sensors, but also your hearing. Enjoy the crunch of a carrot or the snap of a pea pod.
If you’re new to mindfulness, Miriam recommends starting by tuning into two senses at first, but eventually, this will become natural for you.
Be in your body, in the moment:
- Remove the automation of the activity. If you always eat in the same place, and the same food, try switching it up a little. If you can’t get out of the office, maybe see if you can eat closer to a window with natural light.
- Reduce stressful distractions. If you can, walk away from the stressors before eating. If you need to work through lunch, try to use that time to work through more ‘mindless’ activities so that your mindfulness can be focused on your meal.
- Imagine how you eat in a restaurant. Typically, when we eat out, we have a heightened enjoyment of the meal and the mealtime. We are more aware of our food and enjoying (usually) pleasant conversations with others. Try to mimic this experience in other situations.
- Do meals like the Europeans: think about pleasure while you’re eating, not guilt.
- Don’t eat while arguing or angry. Walk away from mealtime arguments and calm down before resuming your meal.
The next time you sit down to dine, be mindful and enjoy your meal. Your digestive organs will thank you.
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