With a little guidance, patience, and experimentation, it is possible to know which foods are right for you. What a sense of relief it is to have a personalized diet that caters to your health goals, concerns, and lifestyle! But it doesn’t stop there. While our diet does make up a big part of our health, food isn’t everything. In addition to knowing what to eat, we must learn how to eat.
What does that mean? It’s the state in which we approach food. How we feel when we sit down to a meal. How we think when we pick up our forks. And how we act when we take a bite. These “how’s” not only affect the efficiency of our digestive system, they also influence our state of mind (really!).
“How’s” are the foundation for our habits, which is no small thing. As it goes: “we first make our habits, then our habits make us.” (John Dryden) How do your mealtime habits play into your health?
Since I’m always looking to enhance my mental state here are three tips I put to use daily:
1. Slow down
Take time to sit and enjoy your meals. Pause whatever you’re doing–even if it’s just for five minutes–and commit your mind and body to the dish in front of you. Enjoy it! When I eat quickly I find that I don’t even taste my food, let alone enjoy it. Where’s the pleasure in that? Then, when I look down and find my plate is empty I feel unsatisfied, anxious and annoyed. I don’t like to experience those things, so I know it’s in my best interest to slow down. Curious to see how it works? Try this: start by setting down your utensils in between each bite. Pause to take a drink of water. While you take the time to nourish your body, let your mind take a break as well. This gives your body time to process the food you’re ingesting, which will also help you feel better satiated since the body has time to tell the brain “I’m full.”
2. Chew, chew, chew!
I used to work in a fast-paced office where I ate my lunch in a hurry, hunched over my keyboard, hardly chewing. No wonder I struggled with so many digestive issues, like bloating and heartburn. Did you know digestion begins in the mouth? Our saliva provides powerful enzymes with each bite, helping to break down the food before it enters the intestines. When we take the time to chew our food, not only are we aiding in the digestion process, we become more conscious of each bite, which causes us to be more conscious of our food as a whole. Try this: at your next meal chew each bite 30 times. I know it sounds silly but you may be surprised with the results. Can you do it? The goal is not to count to 30 with each bite, every time (that would get a little tiresome); the goal is simply to make thorough chewing–and consciousness–a natural part of each meal time.
3. Enjoy the experience
Don’t forget to taste your food! Pay attention to the flavors and the textures. Savor each bite. You might even feel differently about certain foods when you notice the details! What’s more, this habit can help us experience even more pleasure with those foods we love. For example, I love chocolate chips cookies. So when I enjoy one, I really want to enjoy it: I stop whatever it is I’m doing and I take slow, mindful bites. I might even close my eyes. This allows me to thoroughly enjoy the moment and take in all the delicious flavors.
Try this: take a moment to calm down before starting your next meal. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. This will help your body better prepare for digestion and bring your mind back to the present state (instead of tangled up in that never ending to-do list!).
An improved state of mind is a powerful thing. Imagine what more we could accomplish if we acted with an alert mind from a place of peace? While we may not be able to control the circumstances around us we do have the power to embody health NOW.
The impact of these “how’s” can be felt right away, so I encourage you to give them a try! Because a healthy lifestyle isn’t just about food – what you do matters. Isn’t that empowering?