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How Do You Eat?

Today was the first day of a 30-day yoga journey I started with one of my favorite YouTube instructors. I woke up early and followed my somewhat established practice of eating breakfast and drinking a cup of coffee, followed by a short meditation to start off the morning. My plan was to do today's yoga class after my meditation, breakfast, and coffee.

Five minutes into yoga, I realized I had made a mistake by eating breakfast before going into downward dog. Those of you with digestive issues, particularly GERD, know what I'm talking about. It wasn't pleasant and I stopped my yoga practice for the morning and made a note, "don't eat breakfast before yoga".

That experience got me thinking about how I eat. Ironically, when I started my walk on the treadmill with an issue of Mindful Magazine I came across this article on mindful eating. I admit when it comes to eating, mindfulness is not part of it. I spent years eating a quick lunch while trying to catch up on computer work. I was never one to sit in the breakroom and enjoy my lunch. Too much to do and too little time to do it. I had to be productive. That has led to years of a bad habit of eating quickly and mindlessly to go on to the next item on my to-do list. Even now with my own business and working from home, I'm usually checking emails on my phone or computer while I quickly stuff my face or chug down a protein drink at lunch.

In the article, "Make A Meal of Presence", by Lynn Rossy, PhD, the author asks the dreaded question, "How many times have you stopped after being lost in thought and found the potato chip bag empty without even realizing that you ate them all?" I am not a potato chip eater, but substitute that with trail mix and I am guilty. Dr. Rossy states, "To live fully in the present moment and wake up to our senses requires that we put on the brakes a little. You can’t experience the ride when the landscape is whizzing by and you’re missing the essential information you need to create the life you want. Slowing down helps you notice how you are feeling, what you are thinking, and the sensations in your body (such as hunger and fullness) as well as the sights, smells, and sounds around you. These messages are guideposts to your life."

Did you know that 20% of all American meals are eaten in the car? Research from The Hartman Group suggests that 62% of professionals typically eat lunch at their desks, a phenomenon social scientists call “desktop dining.” This unconscious munching in front of a screen (computer or TV), while you’re working or otherwise distracted, leads to eating more than your body needs or you would even want if you were paying attention. Multitasking is impossible for the brain to do well because when your attention is divided, it’s half as effective. Even if you are “just eating,” if you’re daydreaming about other things, you will miss both the pleasure of eating and the signals that tell you when to stop.

Years ago, when I was the Fitness & Wellness Director at the YMCA, I taught a program for families. This was during the Obama administration and First Lady Michelle Obama was encouraging families to "Let's Move". My program was designed to do that and to help families become aware of unhealthy eating habits. Screen-time, cuts to physical education programs in schools, and numerous other issues were spiking the obesity rates in America. One of the things I realized from the participants and myself was how mindlessly we were eating in front of screens. Watching TV, checking phones, checking social media...our attention was elsewhere, not on the food we were eating and definitely not on the people we may be eating with. I believe our attention spans have become even shorter since then. More social media, crisis stories in the news, political turmoil, COVID-19. All of that leads to less focus and less mindfulness in so many areas of our lives. Mindless stress-eating seems to be the norm.

There are many things in our world we cannot control. News stories, hostile and hate-filled social media, politics, and especially anything to do with the pandemic. Although I don't have the statistics to prove this, I believe that some of the anxiety and even conspiracies around the pandemic are because it is unprecedented and out of our control. As humans, we have the need to control. However, we do have control over our minds, our actions, and our thoughts.

Psychology Today explains mindfulness this way, "To live mindfully is to live in the moment and reawaken oneself to the present, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future. To be mindful is to observe and label thoughts, feelings, sensations in the body in an objective manner." In the moment and present are the key words. In a mindfulness practice, we are paying attention to the here and now. We are paying attention to our breath. Our thoughts will naturally wander, but we bring our thoughts back to the present. Mindful eating, as Dr. Rossy describes is slowing down, smelling, chewing, and actually tasting our food. It is eating slowly enough to feel full before you finish your entire meal. Try it this month, even if it is one meal a day. You may find that your new habit extends to other meals. You may also become more aware in everything you do. A mindfulness practice is not just sitting for 20 minutes and meditating. We can be mindful when we are driving, working, cooking, or when we are taking the dog for a walk. You might be surprised how "mindless scrolling" of social media or news feed occurs less and less. Being mindful can give us more time in our day and reduce our stress. Mindfulness can become a state of being. Give it a try.

For more resources on mindfulness:

22 Mindfulness Exercises, Techniques & Activities For Adults

Positive Psychology

Guided Mindfulness Meditation Practices with Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness for Teens

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