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As more people try to move away from processed foods and focus on eating whole grains and vegetables, there is increased awareness about the importance of what we eat.  Where does our food come from?  Was it locally or organically grown?  Who grew it?  There are so many questions about what we are eating nowadays, but very few questions about how we are eating it.

A friend and I were recently chatting about eating healthfully and the importance of paying attention to what we eat.  She gave me a great idea to try mindful eating for one month.   I thought it would be a challenge to do anything mindfully for a full thirty days, but I knew this was a worthy experience to embark on.

I began my project by defining what mindful eating meant.  For my purposes, I defined mindful eating as being present in my body while being aware of the experience of eating or drinking.  I initially planned to keep a food journal of my experience, but since that didn’t last past the first two days I quickly ditched the journal and decided to focus on the lessons learned instead.

At the end of thirty days it was apparent to me that mindful eating made me feel more full, nourished, and present in my body and in my life.  However, it wasn’t easy.  So much of our culture is built around the idea of meals on-the-go and multitasking during lunch.  It was a daily struggle to find time to sit and be present with my food, and honestly, there were quite a few days where it didn’t happen at all.  Here are my takeaways:

Do one thing at a time.

Mindful eating cannot occur while driving, typing, or watching television.  These activities are mutually exclusive.  Our bodies and minds were not meant to do ten things at once and slowing down and focusing on one thing not only benefits your digestive track, but everything else in your life as well.

Use internal cues, not external ones, to guide your eating.

Are you really hungry?  Or are you just ________? Fill in the blank: stressed, tired, anxious, bored, eating because someone else is, you name it.  So much of our experience of eating is determined by the environment around us.

Have you ever noticed that even if you don’t like a particular food, if it is placed in front of you for long enough you will start snacking on it?  A lot of our eating happens mindlessly while we are talking or distracted by other things.  Pay close attention to your body and let it tell you when it’s ready to eat.

Notice what happens to your body around eating.

Does your stomach hurt because you ate too fast?  Does your body feel bloated from eating too much?  Do you have heartburn from eating too soon before bed?  A lot of common digestive problems are caused by the way that we are interacting with our food.  Tune into your body and become present.

Slow down.

Take the time to look at your food, smell it, pick it up, and put it back down.  Taste it by moving it around your mouth and notice the different flavors that different areas of your tongue pick up. Take deep breaths, fully swallow in between bites, and put your fork down.  What are you noticing in your body?

I have been known to be a bit of a bulldozer at meals and plow through my food.  One of my biggest lessons happened when I began to notice how quickly I ate my food in relation to those around me.  I would often be done with a main course while others were still picking at appetizers!  At one point I even kept a timer next to me at meals to help remind me to slow down.  If you find yourself struggling with speed, find an external cue like a timer to help you take your time.

Take smaller bites.

At the beginning of this project, not only was I a quick eater, but I was taking large bites of my food.  I often find myself doing this when I am enjoying something, but it also means that I am rushing through the meal.  Smaller bites will not only help you to be present and slow down, but if you are really enjoying your food it means you get to enjoy the yummy item for longer!

Try different utensils.

Do you eat more mindfully with chopsticks versus a fork?  What about using your hands?  I love using chopsticks and they make it much easier for me to pay attention to how I am eating.  Experiment and see how different utensils affect your meal.

Start Small.

If you are stuck on where or how to start eating more mindfully then focus on one meal.  Even on days where my schedule is completely packed, I like to start each morning with a mindful breakfast.  This helps me to feel grounded, at peace, and ready to take on the day.

Find foods that nourish you.

Are you eating healthful, delicious foods that nourish your body?  Or do you find yourself grabbing whatever is convenient?  The greatest lesson I learned this month is the importance of choosing foods that not only taste great, but that made me feel healthy and happy.  Mindful eating makes it much easier to pick foods that make me feel energetic rather than ready for a nap.  Notice how different foods make you feel and you’ll find yourself not only eating more mindfully, but hopefully feeling healthier and happier as a result.