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FEATURE - August 2017
Mindful Eating—What Am I Truly Hungry For?
by Aneta Baranek
Food is so essential in our lives. It provides nutrition and sustenance. Yet, often times, food becomes our biggest demise, and in some cases, an addiction whether having to do with overeating or undereating. Why is it so? Why do so many of us use food to create a barrier between our inner Selves and outer selves? Why do we use food to block our deep-seated feelings and to numb ourselves from what is occurring in the present moment?
The concept of mindful eating attempts to address these and other questions with regards to the relationship we have with food.
Mindful eating is about us making a conscious choice before and during the process of eating. Rather than being driven by cravings or emotions, mindful eaters are consciously selecting every ingredient and every bite. Mindful eaters are very much in tune with their bodies and eat only when hungry, stopping long before feeling full.
One of the groundbreaking exercises to do to embark on the journey of mindful eating is to ask yourself, “What am I truly hungry for?” Be vigilant and listen, listen very carefully. The answers that emerge might surprise you, they might even take you aback. More often than not, the reason has nothing to do with true, physical, hunger for food, but rather, it has to do with an attempt to fill in an inner void. That inner void has to do with attitudes acquired earlier in life of which we are unconscious of. In my case, it was a sense of deep loneliness. This was an inner loneliness. I was living a very full life, surrounded by many wonderful people, and yet underneath it all, I was feeling disconnected and quite lonely. As I started journaling about it, what emerged was that I felt very much connected outwardly, with others, and not so much with my inner Self. Given this discovery, I started paying more attention to my inner voice, spending more time with myself, and responding with love to the inner dialogue of feeling lonely and left-out. As I started doing so, my urges to eat diminished. I was feeding myself from the inside out and the cravings for physical nutrition subsided. Once I understood my past motivation for eating, I was able to transform it. We cannot change what we are not aware of. Remember that this journey of self-discovery is a process. It takes time. In the era of instant gratification we tend to want to hurry up through anything uncomfortable. We choose to mask the discomfort with food or other means. You must be patient and you must awaken your desire to know why you are behaving in the ways that you currently are. As in my personal case, journaling helped me tremendously to extrapolate my own thoughts. The inner dialogue revealed through writing our thoughts down affords depth of understanding.
Once we start being curious about our eating habits we can then cultivate other productive ways of relating to food. Curiosity and wonder are the key. Too often we might automatically revert to shame or self-punishing behaviors. The process of unraveling our relationship with food is meant to help us to recognize the motivation behind us reaching out for food. We need to be able to distinguish whether we are truly hungry and need to nourish our body, or whether we are using food to cope with life’s situations. Another simple way to help ourselves be mindful when it comes to food is to take a picture of everything we eat. This small interruption in our habitual process of being will add a pause, which in turn will create space for us to become more aware of what we are eating and why. To take this practice to the next level is to keep a food journal.
How we handle our emotions has a lot to do with how we relate to food. Most of us are not taught about acknowledging our feelings and the emotional energy that comes with them. Slightest sensation of emotional current awakens discomfort. Because we are unfamiliar with our emotional states we want to maintain the status quo by turning into food to disguise these emotional currents and to distract ourselves from what is happening within us in the present moment. Such behavior perpetuates dependency on food. We build habitual ways of being and instead of responding to the emotions, we cover them up with food. What is needed instead is to lean into whatever is coming up for us emotionally, allow ourselves to feel it completely and become one with it. What we will discover is that the discomfort eases very quickly (as quickly as ten seconds) and emotions leave our bodies instead of lingering within us and accumulating unprocessed energy. It is very human to experience all sorts of emotions: sadness, shock, excitement, fear, anger. Our society teaches us that to feel is weak. To the contrary of this societal belief, to be fully present with your emotions requires courage and strength. As we move our intention towards processing our emotional states, the need to binge or to avoid food gradually subsides.
Addressing some of our physical cravings might be done by selecting quality nutrition and supplementation. In recent years a variety of initiatives have emerged to strengthen the nutritional value within the foods produced today. An example might be the Non-GMO Project. For more information visit Choosing to eat high quality nutrition, such as organic produce, is one of the ways to enhance the quality of the foods we consume. Choosing to eat more unprocessed foods like fresh fruits and vegetables is another. Because our soil no longer contains all the necessary minerals, in my experience, mindful supplementation is vital at this point as well.
In this day and era, with most of us leading sedentary lifestyle, it is so important to move, to exercise, our bodies. Our bodies need to move in order to fully digest and absorb our food. We need to move our body to allow for certain processes within our bodies to take place like movement of the lymphatic fluid, oxygenation of the blood, and generation of endorphins, among others.
Mindful eating can become very much a part of our spiritual practice and it can help us to heal and transcend core issues. Rather than traveling to an ashram in India to reconnect with ourselves, we can discover so much about our inner world simply by paying attention to our food choices and related behaviors. Simple changes help us make great strides in redefining our relationship with food and in turn with our inner selves.
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While pursuing her Doctorate of Divinity degree through the School of Metaphysics, Aneta Baranek continues her research and study of self-actualization and self-realization. She also holds a Master’s Degree from DePaul University in Computer Science. She has been serving as a spiritual teacher through the School of Metaphysics for the past eight years. She currently resides in Kansas City. You can reach Aneta at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 913-236-9292.