It happened again. Someone stole my sandwich. Right off my desk.
I was doing my regular noonday reading, alternating between my top 2 favorite sources of important information: the NEJM, and TMZ. (They stimulate different areas of my brain, you see.) I also had my Twitter feed open, was scheduling an event on my calendar, and was responding to an email. I had had my turkey and mustard sandwich on my desk. I was planning to eat it at some time during my lunch break, but when I looked down, it was gone!
Irate (and a bit freaked out), I jumped up, ready to storm out of my office and catch the sneaky sandwich thief. Fortunately, I didn't get far before I ran into a mirror... and noticed I had a tiny smidgen of yellow mustard on my top lip. Brushing it off, I couldn't help but feel a little shred of turkey in my molars. And then it struck me! I was the sandwich thief.
Have you ever eaten something and hardly noticed? I bet you have! We all do it: Mindless eating. We eat when we're working, watching TV, driving, surfing the web, texting on our phones, people watching on the T. We eat while we're deep in thought, worrying about problems, mentally problem-solving, or simply caught up in enjoyable conversation with friends. We're eating with our mouths, but we're eating mindlessly.
Mindfulness, essentially the opposite of mindlessness, is a hot topic these days. Google the term and you will come up with over 27 million hits. Mindfulness has probably become a common topic because we live in such a fast-paced world with ubiquitous communication, where not only is high productivity a chief aim but also that fantastical ability to "multi-task". Mindfulness is an increasingly important topic because it's often not natural to practice in our environment!
What exactly is mindfulness, and why is it important for nutrition for YOU?
Mindfulness is the awareness that comes from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, to things as they are. What is mindful eating then? Making the conscious decision to pay attention to what and how we're eating without making judgments about it.
Mindless eating is a problem. Through mindless eating, we:
1. Only eat when you're eating. I hate to admit to myself, but, try as I may, I can't fully attend to more than one task in a given moment. If I'm engrossed in online depictions of oral manifestations of Crohn's disease (NEJM time) or trying to judge TMZ's report on whether Kate Hudson and Nick Jonas are seeing each other (...an equally significant topic), I am not able to put any focus on my turkey sandwich. To my brain, it's almost as if I never ate it.
2. Slow down! Take smaller bites. Chew more slowly. Extend the time you are focusing on eating and not only will you extend the enjoyment of a meal, you will also give your body time to send signals to your brain that your body is responding to hunger (a hormone called ghrelin) and time for the release of leptin, a hormone that causes you to feel satiety. By slowing down, you can eat an appropriate quantity of food to match your body's needs.
3. Notice your food with all your senses. Smell your food. Just by using olfactory senses, your GI tract already prepares for digestion, and you are able to activate your brain's pleasure centers to maximize that primal feeling of reward when you eat. Fully taste your food. Is it salty? Savory? Sweet? Does it feel grainy, smooth, dry? Does it sound crunchy, squishy, liquid? What does it look like? Appetizing? Not quite as appealing to be Pinterest worthy, but good enough to beckon you to eat it?
Eating is not merely a fueling activity--it is meant to be a necessary part of your day that gives you pleasure-- that nourishes your body, and, through mindful eating, nourishes YOU!