Eating Takes Time
diet mindful eating nutrition slowfood
A lot has been written about mindful eating lately. It is a more compassionate solution to our society’s strained relationship with food, one that avoids the obsessive-compulsive calorie counting, weighing, restriction, and other fun things that unhealthy eaters “need” to get back on track.
Mindful eating is not a new idea--I’ve read accounts of it in reference to Buddhist practice--but it is gaining popularity alongside the evolutionary and traditional diets that are becoming more widespread.
The basic idea is that you base your eating habits on an understanding of how your body reacts to food. Instead of eating 4-5 meals a day every 2-4 hours, or 1 meal a day after a 16-hour fast, or only eating vegetables, or only eating meat...you simply eat what and as often as you feel makes you healthiest.
Since you’re also paying attention to your eating, you would also stop eating when you’re full. You would not use food as a distraction, or an escape. You treat it as nourishment, which is, after all, what food is: nourishment for body and soul. Eating, so often the outlet for our neuroses, is meant to rejuvenate us, and by practicing mindful eating, we make Eating a ritual of rejuvenation once again.
Learning to Listen
Of course, being able to do that requires that you are exceptionally in tune with your body. Not only do you need to be able to detect what your body is saying about food, you need to give those signals enough weight that you actually do something about them. A lot of people eat pints of ice cream, get very clear messages that this is a bad idea, and don’t care enough to do anything about it.
Being in tune with your body is a good thing, so I don’t think that is a strike against mindful eating at all. It does, however, make it difficult to implement if you’re still learning how to listen to your internal intuition.
When I started trying to eat healthy, I got really caught up in it. I was always worrying about how healthy my food was, so I could never enjoy it. Add to that the fact that I was always rushing around, trying to fit my meals into spare minutes between classes, training sessions, or More Important Things, and my relationship with food was pretty messed up. So even though I was eating very nutritious food, I was not getting much benefit out of it.
I tried mindful eating, but I didn’t have time to sit there and give all my attention to my food. Instead, I would read, try to catch up on work, or eat in the car.
Learning from the Rest of the World
Then, on vacation in Portugal, I was able to slow down, and magically, my stomach got along much better with my food. I could really enjoy the food I was eating, and even the pasteis de Belem we overindulged in didn’t do much harm. Mealtimes in Portugal were for enjoying good food and good company. They were not for stuffing your face as fast as possible so you could Get On With Life.
That’s when I realized the best way to ensure mindful eating was to give myself enough time to enjoy food. Half an hour, while plenty of time to ingest a meal, wasn’t really enough time to give it its due. Other cultures that have much healthier relationships with food give mealtime a special reverence. When I lived in Jordan with my aunt, lunchtime was a big deal. There were two hours set aside for it, all things had to stop, you could not skip out, and frequently guests would come and share the meal. It was alien compared to the way Americans approach all meals, even healthy ones.
Just as movement should be holistic and serve to connect us to our bodies and our worlds, meals as a holistic experience are about more than simply getting enough calories.
So for me, mindful eating simply means giving the Ritual of Nourishment the respect it deserves. No amount of presence of mind makes up for the attitude that 10 minutes is enough time to scarf down a pizza and that a meal is balanced as long as it contains the right ratios of calories and nutrients.
I’ve written a handbook to share my experiences in diet, exercise, and health. I have seen too many people who find themselves at war with themselves over their own health. I have also become really fed up with the diet and fitness industries misleading people to make a profit. I’d like to clear away some of the myths and the lies, and present a vision of health that does not involve self-destructive exercise or starvation. My goal is to explain the movement and diet aspects of health in a way that lets you make your own decisions. If anything in this article resonated with you, you can download a free copy here.
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(photo by Jenny Downing on Flickr)