Eat and Grow Mindful
Now, more than ever before, we need to pause, quiet our minds, and tune into what our bodies are trying to tell us. Bombarded with noise – phones, alarms, text messages, the ‘ding’ of an incoming email, honking horns, etc. – it is rare we can hear our own thoughts, let alone notice the subtle messages that our body sends to us on a moment to moment basis. So many people go about their day only to return home and have little recollection of how they got from point A to point B. When I ask my patients what they ate over the past 24 hours, unless they have written it down, I almost always hear “um, I can’t remember!” This is just one example of our life on autopilot. Much of our lives are carried out mindlessly.
Being mindless does not necessarily mean we are careless, tuned out, or depressed. Yet it does mean we aren’t experiencing life to its fullest potential, and this may lead (or mislead) us to overlook important information about our health and happiness. In our quest to achieve, do and be more, we often miss the most miraculous thing of all – this moment. This moment is all we ever have, and this is where mindfulness and true growth is possible. Disconnection from this moment can result in anything from dialing the wrong number to missing that dull ache in your body that’s trying to tell you something, to blowing through a red light.
On top of keeping yourself and others safe, there are many reasons to cultivate mindfulness. Research shows that practicing mindfulness regularly can reduce rumination/negative thinking, improve memory and focus, reduce emotional reactivity, enhance cognitive flexibility, lead to better sex, improve relationship satisfaction, strengthen insight/intuition, boost the immune system, promote a healthy weight, and increase feelings of well-being.
You do not have to go through a 2-week silent meditation retreat to start living more mindfully. I like to start small, with something that is doable wherever and whoever you are. I’m a nutritionist, so it’s no surprise I like to start with mindful eating. We eat multiple times a day, which averages over 1,000 meals a year, so why not take advantage? The following exercise has helped many people more fully enjoy the experience of eating and can create a gateway to more mindful living as a whole.
The Raisin: A Mindful Eating Exercise
If you do not have a raisin, any other piece of food will work.
Imagine you have never seen this food before and you are exploring it for the first time.
- First, look at the raisin and give it your full attention. Notice the color, areas of light and shadows, ridges, and any other characteristics you can see.
- Touch the raisin and explore the texture between your fingers. Notice if it is cold, warm, smooth, rough, and so on. It can help to close your eyes during this step to enhance your awareness of what you are feeling.
- Smell the raisin right under your nose. Pay attention to any/all aromas you can pick up. At the same time, notice if you experience any sensations in your mouth or stomach.
- Bring it to your lips and notice how your arm and hand know exactly where to go and what to do in order to carry this out. Pay attention and see if the mouth begins to water.
- Place it on your tongue. Do not chew the raisin, just move it around and notice how it feels in your mouth.
- Intentionally bite the raisin when you are ready. Notice how it automatically winds up on one side of the mouth. Pay attention to all of the tastes that it releases with each slow bite. Be aware of the saliva in your mouth and how the raisin changes in consistency as you chew it.
- Consciously swallow the raisin, starting with the awareness of your intention to swallow, followed by the sensation of swallowing itself. Notice how it moves down the throat into the esophagus.
- Notice any lingering tastes and how your mouth feels.
Try expanding this exercise to your next meal and as often as you can. Perhaps you will begin to more quickly recognize when you feel satisfied and put the fork down to stop eating. Maybe, just maybe, the more you practice mindful eating, the more your awareness will begin to expand as you recognize the restorative beauty in the food you eat, then in things happening all around you such as the birds chirping, children laughing, and the brilliant shades of pink and orange painting the night sky.
Will you be perfectly mindful all of the time and never slip back into autopilot? We are all human, so the answer is no. And that is okay! It is not a failure, it is another opportunity. I encourage you to practice mindfulness with patience and compassion and watch as the world begins to transform before your eyes.
With mindful gratitude,