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.
Mindful eating, though it may have become abstract in modern western culture, is not a new concept. The idea of body consciousness and bringing awareness to your food, eating habits, and digestion has been used for thousands of years in practices such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Buddhism, and Ayurveda. These three ancient belief systems differ in geographic origin, but hold striking similarities in how they practice mindfulness in food preparation and eating.
The autonomic nervous system, which controls and influences how our internal organs function, is comprised of two parts; the sympathetic nervous system, or “fight or flight” response, which prepares our body for action in response to stress, and the parasympathetic nervous system, or “rest and digest” response, which controls homeostasis and promotes relaxation and repair.
Chewing is important for both physical and chemical digestion, and requires sufficient awareness and attention, therefore making it an integral part of mindful eating.
It is important to ensure hunger is present before adding food to the digestive system. The presence of hunger signifies the presence of digestive secretions.
Attention to digestion not only helps us recognize hunger and satiety, but also brings awareness to how food makes us feel. Our senses go beyond stimulating and preparing digestion, they can help us answer questions like “am I eating for hunger or for pleasure?”, “what do I feel like eating?”, or “how will I feel after I eat this?”.
Proper digestion is essential in maintaining a healthy digestive tract, and eating mindfully is an important aspect in achieving optimal digestion.
Many of the possible triggers linked to an ineffectually functioning digestive system are associated with our eating habits, and can be amended simply through attention and awareness.