As an Integrative cardiologist, I take a holistic approach to patient care, which includes assessments of lifestyle behaviors and recommendations for improve their health, healing outcomes and well-being. Nutrition plays a big role. When shifting dietary habits, and addressing their mind-body awareness, often I am asked, “Is there a right or wrong way to eat my food for better health?”
I acknowledge to my patients that there is no right or wrong way to eat, but there are varying degrees of awareness surrounding the experience of food that can result in benefits to your health and wellness. This is called Mindful Eating.
The general principles of mindfulness include a non-judgmental, deliberate paying of attention. It is being aware in each moment of what is present for you mentally, emotionally and physically. The practice of mindfulness promotes balance, conscious choosing, wisdom and acceptance of what is. With this practice, you can cultivate freedom from reactive, habitual patterns of your thinking, feelings and actions.
I find that mindful eating encourages me to eat more slowly and thoughtfully – truly enjoying the flavors and sensations of foods. I actually eat less because of this approach. This calmness and state of appreciation also help to reduce the body’s reaction to stress.
To eat mindfully, you become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities through both the preparation of foods and the eating of it. Without judgement, you acknowledge your responses to foods, such as liking it, disliking it or feeling neutral about it. Mindful eating means choosing to eat foods that are both nourishing and pleasing to you, using all of your senses to explore, taste and savor them. It also means developing your awareness of your physical hunger and level of satiety as cues to guide your decisions for eating and stopping eating.
When you eat mindfully, you accept that your eating experiences are unique to you and there is no right or wrong way to eat – just your depth of awareness surrounding it. You look at the immediate choices and your direct experiences associated with food and eating, rather than the distant health outcome of that choice. However, it also means your awareness of and reflection upon the effects caused by unmindful eating. Mindful eating can provide insight about how you can act to achieve specific health goals. This will increase as you become more attuned to your direct experience of eating and feelings of health.
One simple example is to share in family celebrations with moderated portions of a special dish. This dish may be a family tradition created with both love and an abundance of ingredients that should be limited for your optimal health. There is great joy in that communal meal — you are aware of both the positive aspects and the effects of unmindful eating. You can move forward with that awareness and make your choices consciously.
Those who eat mindfully also grow in awareness of our interconnection of all living beings, cultural practices and our planet — and the impact we have upon those systems with the food choices we make.