The western culture as we see it today is one of constant visual stimulation and disconnectedness. There are advertisements everywhere promoting a lifestyle that thrives on consumerism and quantity over quality. As a society, we face constant pressures to stay in the know, to do more and with less time, and this has cultivated a generation that is struggling to stay connected. One major way these pressures have manifested within our culture is in the way we eat. It is a common sight to see people rushing down the street each morning, clicking a hasty text into their phone and shoving a banana or granola bar into their mouths before jumping on the bus. This modern lifestyle sacrifices mindfulness with meals. We have lost our connection with food and with our bodies, and many of us are paying for it with our health.
On the topic of America’s behavioral shifts in eating trends, Mark East, president of the NDP Group’s North American food and beverage unit says, “The fast and hectic pace of the lives we lead has had the single greatest impact on this country’s eating behaviors”. The issue is not just the amount of time we spend eating our food, it also stems to the amount of effort we put into preparing it. A consumer trend report from the Government of Canada says time constraints are a major impact on food consumption patterns of most households, adding that the average meal preparation time has decreased from 45 minutes 10 years ago, to 15-30 minutes today.
The idea of mindfulness and a slower-paced lifestyle is no new or radical concept; traditional cultures from around the world have valued the practice for centuries. Many books on the subject have been published, often written by renowned scientists, medical doctors, psychologists and psychotherapists, or Buddhist masters. The model of mindful eating discussed here has had many labels, such as: conscious eating, intuitive eating, wisdom eating, non-dieting or the non-diet approach, and even simply normal eating. ‘The Original Intuitive Eating Pros’ explains it as “an approach that teaches you how to create a healthy relationship with your food, mind, and body”. The ‘Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating’ program describes mindful eating as “eating with intention and attention; eating with the intention of caring for yourself, [and] eating with the attention necessary for noticing and enjoying your food and its effects on your body".
A mindful practice when consuming meals can have drastic health benefits such as better digestion, proper nutrient absorption, balanced weight, better energy and sleep, and improved mental health. Bringing attention to eating habits is also an important part in developing and maintaining a healthy relationship with food. Eating mindfully isn’t just about concentration; it’s about your attitude and relationship with food; how you prepare your food, how you think about it, how it looks, how you spend your time eating it, how fast you eat, and also how thoroughly you taste and chew each bite. It includes self-awareness around how food makes you feel, recognizing when you are hungry or understanding when you are full, as well as observing and identifying digestive disturbances that may be a result of something you ate.
Learning the practice of mindfulness and teaching yourself to slow down is about using your senses to create and appreciate a positive and relaxing space. It involves bringing attention to methods of preparation and ingestion of food, as well as being aware of your thoughts and opinions in order to maintain a relaxed body and mind - ultimately allowing yourself pleasure and enjoyment.
To learn more about Mindful Eating, read the many other posts within the Mindful Practice