Thinking While You Chomp

Two weeks ago I promised to bring you along on a journey of self-discovery by elaborating on the words and phrases that came to mind from the poem I included in that post. One of the phrases I thought of was “mindful eating”. As we just passed Thanksgiving, and the holiday season is now in full swing, I deemed this as a relevant topic to start with. You can find plenty of articles online about mindful eating, and resources from The Center for Mindful Eating to help you engage in this practice. Benefits of mindful eating include an opportunity to gain more enjoyment from food, avoid binge eating, and be more aware of and in sync with your body.

Here’s a bit of my story. As a child, I was always the last person at the dinner table. I ate slowly, consciously chewing each bite. And I put my fork down in between bites. I don’t remember being taught to eat slowly or to pause in between and set down my utensils. I just did. Sometimes I’d be so immersed in eating, that I’d look up surprised to discover that someone had left the table!

Fast forward to one of my early morning jobs as a teenager. I had to get up before the sun before any hunger awoke in me. I forced myself to down something to avoid pains later. Around this time, I also began to read while eating alone, to save time. Because of course, I was always reading a novel I found so interesting that my brothers practically had to pry it away from me to get my attention at times. But alas, there were other things to get done besides devour the entire YA section of the library.

A few years later I was in China, where for the first time in my life, I felt pressured to eat more after I was full. This was a very consistent pressure. So I cracked a bit. My hosts were too gracious, selecting more foods for me with their chopsticks and placing them on my plate. If I was eating in their home, probably due to the language barrier and not knowing what to do with me, they would offer pre-dinner snacks. Of course, after the meal, the snacks reappeared. No one believed me when I said I was full, unless I repeated it a minimum of three times. I felt rude if I didn’t accept some of the extra nourishment.

Fast forward a few years and enter an obsession with music videos on YouTube. Yes, to be honest, sometimes bingeing on YouTube occurred. See what I did there? To put it more accurately, I have struggled and do sometimes still struggle with watching one too many YouTube videos, usually at night, keeping me up past my bed time I set for myself so I can get up for work. This bingeing eventually introduced a bingeing buddy that I did not intend to invite to the movie night. You know, popcorn. Not literally popcorn usually, but a snack to go with the video. And the scary part? If I finished the treat while the video was still going, I missed the fact that I’d just had something delicious and thought I needed to get more so I could actually enjoy it. If I gave in, I’d feel sick later and be frustrated with myself. And continuing the spiral, I could end up like one of Pavlov’s dogs, conditioned to salivate at the opening strains of every new song! What a nightmare! Let’s not go there.

This sometimes results in a problem on the other side of day. Yes, ignoring the alarm (I have a strange habit of avoiding the snooze button and turning off the alarm instead, meant to encourage myself to get up immediately or in just a minute more to enjoy my most comfortable memory foam pillow, but well, this isn’t guaranteed to have the desired result). This leads to sleeping in too long and not having adequate time to eat breakfast. This usually results in a very rushed meal that doesn’t include what I’d really like to eat. Maybe some of you can relate to this vicious cycle. Yes? Yes? Tell me I’m not the only one who ever has this problem. Oh, and guess what happens when you don’t get enough sleep? You tend to eat too much the next day.

Now, when I lived in China, while I sometimes kept eating when full to please my hosts, I still ate slowly and because many of the foods were brand new to me with interesting tastes and textures, I was full of curiosity. I took my time to explore the uniqueness of each, uh, chopstickful. I was full of questions about the food and paid attention to what I was experiencing while eating. Having this kind of awareness and examining your thoughts and reactions to food are important parts of mindful eating. I have better days, and days when I’m more mindless while eating. It’s something I’m working on.

One of the first steps is avoiding distraction, which can be difficult, but if you do you may be delighted with how you experience a meal. Have you tried a mindful eating exercise before? This one can get you started: Raisin Meditation. Note this could also work with a grape, or really any kind of small food. What about when you’re eating with others? I wouldn’t advise eating alone for every meal. Certainly, the social benefits, as well as the mental and physical health benefits of sharing meals with others could constitute an entirely separate post. But how can you still be mindful when eating in a group? Try these tricks here: How to Eat Mindfully With Others. What are your thoughts on mindful eating? What plans do you have to avoid mindless eating during the holidays?

Happy mindful holiday eating to you and yours this season!

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