When was the last time you got full eating a meal by filling up your senses — noticing the taste, scents, texture and the feeling of nourishment good food can give you?
We often see eating as something on our to-do list unless we are going out for a special meal when we consciously set aside the time to really enjoy it. Recently, the New York Times reported on the Buddhist practice of Mindful Eating and how it is entering secular places, like the Google campus. Mindful Eating is a meditative practice that can quiet the mind and bring your awareness into your body.
How Can You Practice Mindful Eating?
The Center for Mindful Eating lists one of the principles of mindfulness as, “being aware of what is present for you mentally, emotionally and physically in each moment”. Mindful Eating is defined in part as “Choosing to eat food that is both pleasing to you and nourishing to your body by using all your senses to explore, savor and taste.”
Benefits of Mindful Eating
This movement might be gaining popularity because it counteracts two aspects of American food culture that could use some intervention. First, it focuses on pleasure which is a welcome change from punishment prone diet concepts. Second, it slows down our ceaseless rushing which allows time for reflection on our food choices — what we like, what agrees with us, and where it comes from — which can connect us to our community and environment. The main benefits are also twofold; by focusing on the pleasures of food and eating, we can feel true satisfaction and become more adept at noticing when we are full. In the New York Times article, Mindful Eating as Food for Thought, Jeff Gordinier writes, “Mindful eating is not a diet, or about giving up anything at all. It’s about experiencing food more intensely — especially the pleasure of it. You can eat a cheeseburger mindfully, if you wish. You might enjoy it a lot more. Or you might decide, halfway through, that your body has had enough.”
The Traditional Chinese Medicine Approach to Healthy Weight
This non-diet/enhanced awareness mindset is very similar to the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) approach to regaining and maintaining healthy weight.TCM looks to a root, internal cause rather than external reasons, like food, for weight gain. Usually deficient Qi (lifeforce) or Qi imbalance is the cause. If a body has sufficient Qi, it won’t experience cravings or excessive appetite. Alternately, if there is insufficient Qi, organs may not be able to perform their essential functions well, like eliminating toxins or maintaining proper metabolism. For example, the spleen and liver organ system is key for digestion. If there is imbalance there, you might experience headaches, digestive issues, weight gain, or allergies. Organ systems can become imbalanced for many reasons like viral infections, environmental toxins or emotional trauma. Stress is a common reason for imbalance in various organ systems. The Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation writes, “Perhaps the most profound aspect of TCM’s perspective on overweight conditions is its perception of the role emotions play in overall health. TCM does not see and treat your body, mind, emotions, and spirit as separate, but rather as an interrelated whole…When TCM looks at digestion, it takes the broadest view: digestion is the ingestion, absorption, and letting go of food, drink, and emotion…”
Chronically held emotions cause stagnation in the organs, creating an impasse for the flow of chi like a dam in a river. Acupuncture can relieve these blocks to restore the flow of energy and re-establish proper energy exchange. People often feel this immediately as relief, joy, settled nerves, or an energy boost. When the imbalances are righted, the body will ask for what it needs and normal weight will return.
Mindfulness can help us to recognize stress, allowing us to acknowledge it and act or let it go. It can also help us to bring more pleasure into our lives to keep in balance. Mindfulness eating is an enjoyable practice to help us tend to the gift of our bodies with greater care and pleasure.