Slow Down and Enjoy Mindful Eating

Appeared in Brownsville Herarld and Valley Morning Star on September 22, 2013

By Lisa Mitchell-Bennett

I pride myself in being a busy, productive, quick on my feet kind of person. While I appreciate the benefits of yoga, meditation and mindfulness, I don’t usually have the patience, or focus for such slow practices. In college I had a roommate who was really into Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk who preaches mindful living. She put yellow post-its all over our shared apartment that said things like “Breathing in I smile at my non-toothache.” And  “Breathing out I am a flower.” I have to admit the little signs kind of annoyed me. She had all these rules about slowly chewing food, letting the phone ring 4 times before answering, deep breathing and other such meditative and slowing down practices that I used to snicker and roll my eyes at. She did Yoga every morning while I went running. We got along just fine, but I definitely saw myself as the fast-moving, adventurous, get things done kind of girl, and she was the solemn, reflective, slower-moving one.

But then life got faster and faster and by necessity I needed to jump off the treadmill from time to time and slow down. You know, like the Simon and Garfunkel song, “Slow down, you move too fast. You gotta make the morning last.” So I finally came around to yoga and deep breathing. The pace of our lives can get out of control. As a mother of three busy kids with a demanding career, I often feel like getting through the busy week is an endurance run, if not a race and eating is just something I do like a race car at a pit stop, almost frantic. These are times when my commitment to healthy food choices and exercise is thrown out the window. It’s also when breathing becomes more anxious and shallow and the mindless eating intensifies. It’s easy to lose all sense of awareness about what we are eating and shove it in our faces like the Cookie Monster.

Dr. Cheung, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, has studied the health benefits of mindful eating. “The rhythm of life is becoming faster and faster, so we really don’t have the same awareness and the same ability to check into ourselves.”

Jennifer Mota, 31, experienced the benefits of mindful eating at a recent Yoga training in Brownsville. “I never really thought about my food. In the class we were told to hold a tangerine in our hands and observe it silently for 10 minutes. I touched its smooth surface, soaked in the bright color, smelled the sweet skin and contemplated the rough hands of the farm worker who picked it in Florida, the trucker who loaded and drove it to my local grocery store, and the grocer who unpacked it and put it on display. So many lives connected by the little tangerine. It made me so grateful for this gift from nature that nourishes my body, provides me with vitamins and tastes delicious. I savored each bite of that tangerine like never before!”

Research by Cheung and others is also showing that mindful eating practice is beneficial to your health, and can reduce caloric intake, which is not a bad thing for most of us.

What is mindful eating? Here are some of the principles:

  • Choose to eat food that is both pleasing to you and nourishing.
  • Acknowledge responses to food without judgment.
  • When you eat, just eat. Unplug phone and other electronic devises.
  • Consider silence (if even for a few minutes).
  • Try it weekly. One sit-down meal a week if daily is too much at first.
  • Plant a garden and use it in your cooking. Make connections between your food and the people who grew, picked, shipped and served it.
  • Chew patiently up to 25 or 30 times per bite.
  • Be aware of physical hunger–satiety cues can help guide your eating.

Join me this week and choose a meal, or a day to be mindful in your eating. Try it with your kids! Slowing down not only helps us appreciate the gift that is our food, but also alerts us to issues with eating and stress. Once you slow it down, you will eat less, and make healthier choices because  those unhealthy fast food items will seem more like cardboard than real food when you pay attention. But healthy food from the earth should be slowly chewed and savored because Tu Salud Si Cuenta! (Your Health Matters!)