Mindfulness – The Anti-Diet by Jessica Blanchard

by Jessica on March 6, 2013

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I’ve noticed that many people are starting Spring Cleanses and Detoxes.   While there is nothing wrong with these; they are quick fixes.  Eat an extreme diet for one week then go back to unhealthy ways.   And besides, everyone hates diets and most of them don’t work in the long term.  Why not try something different for a spring cleaning?

You may have heard of the mindfulness revolution that is sweeping the country.  Companies like Google and General Mills have implemented Eastern-based training programs for their employees, involving yoga, meditation and breathing exercises.   At General Mills campus in Wisconsin you may find executives and team members meditating, standing in tree pose or breathing together in conference rooms.  Google introduced  “Search Inside Yourself Program,” bringing mindfulness to its 1000 employees.  The Wisdom 2.0 Conference unites Silicon Valley executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter trading tips on how to stay calm in the digital age.

The roots of Mindfulness come from Buddhist philosophy.  It involves practices like sitting in a comfortable position, observing the sensations that arise in the body and the thoughts that swirl in the brain.  Using non-judgemental awareness, the goal is to observe the thoughts without reacting to them.  Over time this becomes easier and it enables one to recognize the fleeting aspects of emotions and not to react to them.   The mind gradually becomes calmer.

When we eat mindfully we are fully present.  Eating mindlessly, we are not mentally present.  Have you ever started with a full bag of potato chips, proceeded to eat them on the way home, only to arrive home with an empty bag?  This is distracted eating.  We are not paying attention to what we are doing, and we do not recognize the body’s hunger signals.

We may be eating while watching TV, driving, surfing the web, or engaged in an emotional conversation.  Distracted eating is the opposite of mindful eating.

Do you find it impossible to concentrate?  Neuroscientists have discovered that when you ask the brain to concentrate, it gets better self-control skills including attention, focus, stress management and impulse control.  People who practice mindfulness train themselves to become better at these things.

Mindful eating is not about going on a diet or giving anything up.  Mindful eating teaches us to eat with focused attention and awareness so that we can experience what our food is like in the present moment.  We can do this with a fried shrimp po-boy or a kale salad.  It is about noticing all the lovely, juicy details in the po-boy, rather than scarfing it down.    You might enjoy the po-boy much more, and you learn to recognize when your body has had enough.  You might even decide to take a few bites of that kale salad!

Mindful eating also involves developing a loving relationship with food by giving thanks and asking our bodies to accept and welcoming the food into your body.  Many of us ignore or bodies while eating.  We cannot stop eating, we need the nourishment from food.  The problem comes when we start to use food for purposes other than sustenance like a distraction, a comfort or something to satiate another feeling.  If we put our attention back on eating, over time we can develop a healthier relationship with food.

Ready to give it a try?  Here are a few recipes for Mindful Eating.

When you eat, JUST EAT.  Do not eat while driving, watching TV, looking at Facebook or reading the paper.  If you are not paying attention to your food how can you know when you have had enough?

Journaling.  Get a new and pleasant looking book that you will want to write in.  Write down how you feel before eating, what you ate and how you felt afterwards.  Do not condemn yourself for your food choices. If you would prefer an online format – try www.myfitnesspal.com

Forbidden foods.  What are your forbidden foods?  Choose a food that you love, but don’t usually let yourself eat such as cheese cake, french fries or a hamburger.  Take a bite of the food then put down your fork.  Chew the food slowly, noticing the subtleties of the flavors, textures and tastes.  When you are ready, take another bite and continue to eat slowly.  Notice how the food is feeling as it enters your body.  Be very careful to notice your body’s signals of fullness.

Make eating a special occasion.  Set up a nice ambiance by lighting candles, putting on your favorite tunes, using nice china and cutlery.

Try a new food.  When we try new foods we are forced to pay attention to the tastes and subtleties of the foods.

About the author

Jessica has a strong passion for health and wellness.  In parallel to studying nutrition, Jessica owns Balance Yoga & Wellness, where she teaches several classes a week focusing on yoga postures, breathing, and philosophy.  Jessica is completing an Internship in Dietetics at Tulane University, her last step to becoming a Dietitian.  Prior to returning to New Orleans in 2007,  Jessica managed and taught at a yoga retreat center in Thailand, and trained many years in yoga practices and philosophy in India.   Each year she leads retreats internationally in Asia and Europe.  Jessica draws on her many years in health and wellness in her private consultations, combining science-based nutrition, Ayurveda, and Eastern Philosophy.  Contact her jessica@balanceyogawellness.com

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