“We’ve all gotten so caught up in the habit of going through our day half asleep. We listen to what our body initially says and assume that’s the right thing without taking a step back and asking ‘Why do I want this? How will it make me feel?”” says meditation teacher and The Simple Truth Project founder Jeff Cannon. The key, he says, is learning to eat mindfully, a plan he outlines in his new download, The Mindful Diet.
“It’s a wonderful gateway to exploring mindfulness on your own terms. When you start doing it in your meals, you’ll start doing it in the office, your relationships—and the rest of your life,” he explains.
In other words, tuning in to your own needs and intentions is a healthy strategy for both curing your addiction to mac n’ cheese and to that guy who’s no good for you—but it’s easier to learn at the dinner table.
Where to start? Here are Cannon’s three steps to eating (and eventually living) mindfully. —Lisa Elaine Held
Want to avoid that moment where you’re halfway through your meal and you think, “Why the hell did I order this?” The first step to mindful eating is being more mindful of what’s on your plate before you even put it there, or tuning in more clearly to what your body and mind are asking for. “It’s about increasing your awareness of your own needs,” Cannon says. “Am I ordering out of habit? Because it’s easiest? Because I’m angry and frustrated and exhausted and it’s out of emotion? Or is it because it’s been a long week and something light and protein-packed will keep me going?”
And that doesn’t mean you always have to come to the conclusion that your self-aware self wants kale, kale, kale (or beat yourself up if it wants french fries and a beer). “It’s perfectly acceptable to say I’m exhausted, and I want a cheeseburger. Enjoy yourself, and at the end of it, forgive yourself. Part of the Mindful Diet is being aware that you’re not going to be perfect.”
Before you even pick up the fork, take a moment to focus on the plate in front of you. “Use all five senses as a way to slow yourself down and be more aware of whatever it is you’re about to put in your mouth,” Cannon says. “What do you see in front of you? Does it look good? Smell it. Does it smell fresh? Does it smell appetizing? Listen to it. Is it bubbling?”
And take another mini moment to acknowledge your surroundings and self before you dig in, too. Are you reveling in a beautiful dinner with a loved one at a Michelin-starred hotspot or eating a quick bowl of quinoa while watching Masters of Sex after a long day? All of these things contribute to how and what you eat.
Once you do take a bite, let the food settle on your tongue before you swallow it, taking time to notice and savor the flavors and textures. Then, as you continue through the meal, acknowledge what else is going on in terms of your body and emotions.
“The second level becomes emotional. It’s about becoming aware of how food makes you feel and how your body changes as a result of eating it,” Cannon explains. “Is your stomach rumbling? Are you salivating? Is your body feeling satisfied, more content, less stressed? Start associating the emotions with what you’re eating.”
After a while, the level of awareness and consciousness will start to come naturally—at meal times and hopefully also in between.
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