When I was little, my mom would often have to tell me to stop “shoveling” my food. Apparently, the way I held a fork resembled how a little kid would shovel sand into a bucket. Although the “shoveling” technique is arguably a more efficient way to get food from plate to face, my mom insisted I hold my fork in a more delicate manner. I resented it at the time (sorry, Mama!), but now I appreciate it as it lends itself to more mindful eating.
Mindfulness isn’t just something for the hardcore yogis and super health nuts. Being mindful means bringing more awareness to what you’re doing. For example, I have a lower back injury that flares up from time to time. If I don’t take good care of my body, which includes practicing mindfulness, I am more likely to get hurt. I have to be especially mindful when I am working out, making sure I am activating and engaging the right muscles to prevent injury.
I say practicing mindfulness because it’s an ongoing process. When you’re trying to be more mindful about something, it can take a little extra energy up front because you have to pay more attention to something you may have been neglecting. But the more you do it, the easier it gets. And the benefits are huge!
When it comes to mindful eating, the benefits can include: better digestion, weight-loss, increased energy, awareness of when your body is full, feeling satisfied after a meal, and decreased overeating. Here are some of the areas you can focus on to begin practicing more mindful eating. Pick one or two to focus on initially, and only add more as these become second nature.
1. Location and atmosphere of your meal. Is your meal the main event or are you multi-tasking? Eating in front of the TV, computer, working, reading, or even socializing can prevent you from being fully present with your food. This doesn’t mean you need to eat alone or never have dinner and a movie again. It’s all about awareness. Just notice if you are eating more or less depending on your location or environment. Eating while stressed can lead to indigestion, so finding a calm place to eat as well as breathing in between bites can help. Pay attention to if you’re truly enjoying your meal, or if you’re being distracted by your environment. Just try to slow down, and notice your food a little bit more every time you eat.
2. Appreciation of your food. Digestion begins with seeing and smelling your food (you salivate when you see or smell a tasty meal). Notice what you are about to eat. Can you identify any of the ingredients involved? Do you know where the food came from? How is the food presented? What size portion do you have? Do you need utensils for the meal? How many different colors and flavors can you identify?
3. Chewing. It sounds so simple, and it is. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. If you’ve never paid attention to how you chew your food, try it! Chewing is an important step in digestion. It not only makes things easier on your stomach and small intestine, but the saliva you produce contains digestive enzymes that begin to break down your food, readying it for nutrient absorption in the body. Try counting to 5, 10, 20, or 30 before you swallow. See if you can put your hands down, chew, swallow, and breathe before your next bite.
As I mentioned, mindfulness is a practice. It’s not something that happens overnight. So pick an area of focus that feels motivating and reasonable. Start with a small goal (paying attention to how often you actually chew your food) and grow from there. Sometimes it helps to keep a journal or log of how your mind and body feel along the way.
And in conclusion, in the battle of Mindful Eating versus The Shovel Technique, my mom was right all along. Don’t shovel your food, pay attention to it! Your body will be ever so grateful.