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Waking Life: Why Mindfulness is the New Healthy

Feel like you’ve lost your head when it comes to diet and nutrition? You might be eating mindlessly, and it could be having a major effect on your health.

It’s unfortunate, but not surprising, that something as simple as eating can be so complicated. We begin a relationship with food several times a day—we must. We eat to stay alive and energetic, we eat to feel happy, to ease boredom, or for no reason at all. We battle cravings at the same time we create celebratory food traditions.

But the biggest food irony lies in the fact that food is also the cornerstone of our health. Good nutrition is essential for disease prevention and longevity. How do we reconcile food’s health functions
when raising a fork is so fraught with implications?

The answer to these food woes might be found in mindful eating – it’s a concept in health and well being that’s trending upward, and just in time. Eating mindlessly, characterized by binging, starving, craving, stuffing ourselves, grabbing whatever and eating it obliviously, touches us all. Besides shaking us from our unconsciousness when it comes to food, mindful eating promises to deliver major benefits in weight control, disease management and emotional well-being. If you feel like your relationship with food is acrimonious, mindful eating may help you mediate, and deliver big changes in your diet and nutrition in the process.

Power Over Food

It may be today’s “It” thing in non-diet dieting, but mindful eating has been practiced by Buddhist Monks for generations. Now, it’s being adopted by workers on the Google campus during their lunch hour. It is touted on talk shows and is the subject of many books. So what is mindful eating? Simply put, it is an approach to eating in which we pay close attention to our food, noticing its wonderful aspects and tuning into what we are putting in our bodies.

The mindful eating concept is a way of adopting a new attitude about whatever you eat that includes slowing down and controlling how much. According to one system of mindful eating, the practice allows us to “recapture power over food” that we let go with when we “allow other people, events and emotions to control how you eat, how much you eat, how fast you eat and how you use food in your life.” If that sounds familiar, you are probably the perfect candidate to put mindful eating principles to work in your life. But eating mindfully does not require that you eat well – that’s only a by-product of tuning in. You can mindfully eat a chocolate cake as easily as you can a salad, and you can still reap the benefits.

According to the The Center for Mindful Eating the “Principles of Mindful Eating” include being aware of the nurturing aspects of food preparation, using all of your senses,  and being aware of satiety cues. Making these changes in the way we eat and approach food is what leads to potentially life-changing results. Dr. Susan Albers, author and psychologist at Cleveland Clinic Family Health Center says in “The Surprising Benefits of Mindful Eating” that mindful eating has been found to help with deep emotionally issues surrounding food, reduce chronic eating issues like binge eating and anorexia, and improve the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes.

The Pleasure of Masticating

Adopting a mindful eating lifestyle might begin by holding a single blueberry, for example. According to mindful eating principles, you might spend up to 20 minutes looking, feeling, tasting and chewing this piece of fruit. Time consuming? Sure. But the payoff is that by being aware, we can tune into sensations of enjoyment and pleasure.

In addition, practicing awareness can help us start training to move past our desire to eat fast and stuff ourselves with food. Because eating fast means eating more, we start to eat less. And, because eating mindfully allows us to tune into what we eat and how we feel when we eat, we may naturally decide we want to enjoy other, healthier foods.

Wake Up Your Eating Life

Ready to wake up your diet?  Start with some simple awareness questions when you eat, such as, “How hungry am I on a scale of 1 to 10” and even “Am I sitting?” (You can download the full awareness checklist from Eatingminfully.com.) Other strategies for putting mindful eating into practice, according to the recent New York Times piece, Mindful Eating as Food for Thought, include, unsurprisingly, unplugging the media that tends to accompany our eating in favor of focusing on our food, and using rituals like candles and flowers as part of our meals.

Here’s more tips to shift you into focus:

7 Mindful Eating Tips is a downloadable tip sheet from Dr. Susan Albers. Dr. Albers is also behind eatingmindfully.com, which has information and resources about mindful eating.

The Center for Mindful Eating provides a wealth of educational resources for practitioners as well as the layperson, including training and workshops.

Are YOU a Mindless Eater? Brain Wansick, author of the book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think hosts the Mindless Eating website, a hub of engaging videos, anecdotes about the way we approach food, free stuff and tools for teaching mindful eating.

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