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March 28th, 2016

how to start a mindful practice with food in the easiest way possible

By KIND Editor

Words and Photos by Tara Milhem of The Whole Tara

I wasn’t kidding when I said easy! Mindful eating is not another diet or unrealistic trend that will have your head spinning by the time you’re done reading this. As a nutritionist, I’m all about realistic approaches to eating right, while at the same time making sure you actually enjoy the process. I won’t have you meditate on your food or perform embarrassing breathing techniques between meals. Kale salads and quinoa aren’t the only thing on the menu, unless of course that is your jam, but getting pleasure out of eating healthy foods definitely is. There’s a world of good food out there waiting for you, and a mindfulness practice to help you get to a place of truly enjoying them.

This is what being mindful with food will do for you:
Put an end to overeating
Create a greater appreciation for food
Help you stop eating less and start tasting more
Promote actually savoring the flavors of your food
Encourage you to choose foods that nourish your body

And this is what it won’t do:
Turn you into a spiritual guru overnight
Stop you from going out with friends and family
Make you that person who won’t stop talking about their diet
Force you to throw away everything with sugar, gluten, carbs, fat, and so on

Now that we got that out of the way, you’ve probably gathered that this is possible for you. The first and biggest step to becoming a mindful eater is to focus on the why, what, when, and how much you’re eating. Are you eating because you’re stressed or because you’re hungry? Are you shoveling food into your mouth while watching your favorite show or are you tasting the flavors and texture of the food at the dinner table? Just think about how many times you’ve gone through a whole bag of popcorn in the midst of a movie only to find you’ve reached the bottom of the bag and you’re not even satisfied yet. Imagine how much less you would have consumed and how much more you would have tasted if you were to do the same thing, but at the dining room table.

An experiment to kickstart the shift in your relationship with foods is to take a single strawberry, or any other little fruit or nut you have on hand. Instead of mindlessly beginning to eat it, stop to notice the colors and texture of the berry. Next, close your eyes and feel the texture and bumpy rounds on the little fruit for about 20 seconds. Once you’ve reached a sensory experience with the berry on the outside, you can finally take a bite. Keep your eyes closed and chew very slowly to feel what it’s like to actually taste your food. Take another bite and do the same thing. The berry might even have a different taste to you because of how aware you are.

While I don’t expect you to be so in touch with your food at a typical meal, I do see the importance in creating a new sense of awareness while eating. Living in such a fast paced environment, there are a million and one opportunities to lose sight of the importance of meal experiences. Whether it be with a quick lunch at the office or a wonderfully beautiful tajine in Morocco, there is always an opportunity to be aware of why, what, when, and how much you’re eating. Ask yourself these simple questions before you eat to truly enjoy the flavors the meal has to offer.

The nutrition portion of the mindfulness comes with it. When you’re aware of why and what you’re eating, you’ll naturally want to choose the better option to nourish, rather than mindlessly stuff, your body. I can also guarantee plenty more enjoyment and appreciation in simple foods like a piece of grilled salmon and sautéed greens. If you feel like you’re getting off track with noticing flavors and savoring meals, then just redo the famous berry experiment.

Between becoming aware and properly nourishing your body with foods that make you feel good, you’ve found another way to show yourself love and appreciation every day. There are so many benefits that a mindful eating practice will do for you, beyond weight management, that both your palate and body will thank you for. You won’t become a mindful eater overnight and there may be times where you fall off the wagon, but continuing to ask yourself the questions above, eat without distraction, and savor your flavors you’ve taken the first step to a renewed you!

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