I think eating mindfully is a beautiful way to take care of ourselves and to savor our lives. Eating mindfully simply means paying full attention to eating (or cooking or even washing the dishes).
Eating mindfully is a way for us to honor our bodies, to honor the process of nourishing ourselves. It’s a way to honor the rich, long process that goes into food arriving at our tables — from seeds sprouting in the earth to trucks bringing it to the store.
Here are some valuable insights, tips and reminders for eating mindfully from the book How to Eat by Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.
You will see plenty of articles about the average number of calories in a Thanksgiving meal and how horrifying this is supposed to be. You’ll see plenty of articles on which foods you can eat and which foods you should never ever ever consume.
You’ll see articles portraying food as the enemy or Thanksgiving and the holidays in general as a battle you must defeat. (Or articles that create multiple enemies — one article said “food isn’t always the enemy” and then named something else that is.)
You’ll see articles that demonize food and you for “indulging.” They might be filled with judgement, scare tactics and guilt. They might be filled with ridiculous tips to manipulate yourself to eat less.
My whole life I’ve leaned toward all-or-nothing thinking. Black or white. Binge or restrict. Terrible day or terrific.
In my mind I was either the energizer bunny or a sloth. I was either beautiful or blah. And how could I be beautiful if I was only pretty sometimes?
If I ate too much, I’d think F that, my diet is ruined! and pile on the extra helpings. I didn’t ask myself if I really wanted more, if I genuinely wanted to enjoy extra bites. No. Instead, I was focused on the fact that tomorrow I’d need to be perfect.
Tomorrow would be the day. The day I’d follow that diet flawlessly. And then in a week, a few weeks, when I lost some weight, I could finally start taking better care of myself. I could show my face at the gym. I could finally appreciate my body. I could feel better about myself.
This week I talked about creating a safe space to listen to ourselves, without judgment or criticism. Because it can be scary to explore our needs and wants. Because for many of us we’re doing this for the first time.
For the first time, we’re shining the spotlight on ourselves. We’re asking questions like: What do I need to feel better? What do I want to do today? What makes me happy?
We’re exploring — territory that might’ve gone unexplored, abandoned for years. We’re putting ourselves third, second or maybe even first. We’re actually listening.
I just finished writing an article on strategies for staying curious and why curiosity is so vital to our lives. (I featured tips and insights from Ian Leslie’s fascinating new book Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It. Stay tuned for the piece on Psych Central next month.)
So I have curiosity on the brain. And, naturally, this curiosity pertains to our bodies and ourselves.
Everywhere we look, we see ads for weight-loss programs, diet foods and diet pills.
We’re shamed and blamed about our food choices (you better not eat that if you want to be “healthy.” you know it’s bikini season, right?).
Our friends and family might be “watching” what they eat (e.g., counting calories), and we assume we have to watch, too. (Or maybe some people even suggest it.)
When we’re trying to find foods that truly nourish us, when we’re trying to rebuild our relationship with food, it can help to have some good reminders.
For Memorial Day weekend, Brian and I visited friends in Miami. We ate lots of my favorite foods: shrimp, french fries, gelato, whole wheat waffles.
While I enjoyed every bite, afterward, I felt the subtle, gnawing nudge of guilt. And some negative thoughts had slithered in:
What if you gain weight from all of this? You’ve already gained weight since last summer. What if it all goes straight to your expanding hips and thighs? What’s wrong with you? Did you really need to eat the whole plate? You know, you look pregnant, right?
While I can’t control these automatic thoughts, I can remind myself that they’re definitely mistaken. I can remind myself of the truth.
This week I mentioned that those bad body image days — the days we hate our bodies, the days we forget to listen to ourselves, the days we’re this close to starting another diet — have something to teach us.
The key is to listen and be curious. Raise questions. Explore the hidden parts. Explore the puzzle.
Those down days may teach us how to be kind to ourselves even when we feel incredibly uncomfortable in our own skin. They may teach us what depletes or distresses us. They may teach us what doesn’t work, paving the way for the things that do.
Today, I’m republishing an older piece to remind us to enjoy and savor the foods we’ll be eating this holiday season. Sadly, we’re surrounded by articles and ads that warn us about how many pounds we’ll gain if we eat two helpings of dessert. Ads and articles that perpetuate a vicious cycle of fear, guilt and shame around food.
It isn’t right. And it doesn’t have to be this way, either. Instead, we can focus on enjoyment, nourishment and curiosity this holiday season. One bite at a time. I hope this piece gives you some good ideas to do just that.