FEATURE - August 2019
The Practice of Eating Well for Transformational Wellness
I work with clients who almost universally ask me the same question, “What should I be eating to live my healthiest life?” Often, when we begin to work together and look closely at the foods they eat in a day, I find that What they eat is not the issue. Instead, it is How they eat that is the source of their digestion issues, poor nutrition, low energy, and difficult weight loss. The art of eating well or “mindful eating” can be one of the simplest and most effective ways to eat better.
It is unfortunate that few people take the time to enjoy and connect with the foods they eat. Twenty-four lifestyles are spent on the run, while eating has been relegated to a mundane chore that is done while driving, working at the computer, or sitting in front of the television.
Many people can survive on fast-food, drive-through meals and snacks. Many will not even remember what they had for breakfast, which is often eaten standing up as they prepare to rush out the door. Supper is eaten while scrolling through social media feeds, and the tradition of eating at the family dinner table is now gone for many. This rushed, distracted eating significantly affects how food is digested, absorbed, and assimilated and how waste and toxins are removed from the body.
This is where the art of eating well comes in – and it plays a major role in vitality and longevity. What is meant by mindful eating? Mindful eating is eating with minimal distractions. Put another way, it is simply eating with intention and attention. Sounds too simple right? But how many of us take the time to chew our food the recommended 30-35 times before we swallow to properly breakdown the foods for optimal nutrient absorption? The average person only chews two to five times before swallowing, which puts greater strain on the gastrointestinal system.
There are two aspects to mindful eating. The first is eating to take care of yourself, and the second is eating to experience the goodness of the food.
The human body’s self-care is built with two systems – sympathetic and parasympathetic. The former is responsible for the fight-or-flight response that the body needs to face danger. This includes higher blood flow to the muscles and heightened sensory stimulation. The parasympathetic system, designed to make the body relax and repair, involves optimizing digestion and balancing the body’s chemical reactions. Work deadlines, aggressive drivers, financial pressures, and family quarrels are just a few of the modern challenges that induce some form of fight-or-flight response. Constant daily pressures have led to people living in fight-or-flight mode perpetually. This unrelenting stress disrupts the rest-and-digest process.
Distractions tend to cause the eater rush through their food as quickly as possible, biting larger chunks of food and chewing less thoroughly. Digesting larger chunks is harder, which causes problems with bloating and indigestion. Additionally, those that put the effort, time, and money into eating local, organic, and high-quality foods yet still eat while distracted are not really absorbing all the nutrition they think they are. I have worked with athletes who were eating the best-quality foods and were physically active, yet bloodwork showed they were still deficient in several essential vitamins and minerals. The missing piece to their health puzzle was How they were eating.
Eating mindfully and looking forward to enjoying food will help make you more deliberate about What you eat. You will find that you take more time to go through menus and recipes to experiment with different foods and just enjoy eating for the fun that it is. Taking time to notice the taste and texture of food can help you reconnect with the whole experience of taking care of yourself nutritionally.
Getting started is simple. Here are five eating-well practices that are useful in developing mindful eating habits:
Eat in a calm environment. Try not to eat in your car, put away electronics, and sit at the dinner table instead of on the couch.
Chew your food. When you slow down, you can be more conscious of chewing your food to reduce indigestion, bloating, and other gastrointestinal issues
Take breaks between bites. Put your fork down between bites. This can be a conscious cue for you to take time to truly savor the flavors of your meal and connect to What you eat for both enhanced health and eating pleasure.
Be selective with your dinner conversation. Try to discuss only positive topics around the dinner table. Leave finances or To-Do conversations separate from eating to help your body enter a rest-and-digest (parasympathetic) stage.
Enjoy your meal! Get back to having a great relationship with food. Enjoy each bite to increase pleasure in our day.
Some benefits of being mindful of both What and How you eat include:
Different relationship to food. You will not think of eating as a distraction or way of managing your stress.
Better emotional management. Proper eating habits support improved emotional health, and stopping to rest, eat and digest food gives the body time to repair physically and balance stress and relaxation hormones.
Improved timing. You will know when to eat and when you have had enough. This avoids common indigestion problems and discomfort.
Better overall health. Food is essential to improved health. By better addressing your body’s nutritional needs, you build improved immunity against common ailments.
Not sure where to start? Having a discussion with your nutritionist can go a long way toward improving your eating habits. They can advise on your caloric needs and create a diet plan that will ensure you enjoy food while getting maximum benefits.
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Joanna Brown is the owner of Rejoice Nutrition & Wellness, a holistic lifestyle company that seeks to create global awareness about the direct connection between our food and our health, and to ensure everyone has the information and resources they require to live their best life, and to rejoice everyday in the most vibrant body possible!