let your eating be your meditation practice
When conscious eating was first introduced to me, I reacted in pride. I was in my nutrition program, and thought that I was fully conscious about what I was eating because I was aware of the nutrition plan that I'd meticulously created for myself over a few years, thank you very much. What I hadn’t been able to realize when I began this process was how unconscious I was to how I was feeling around food and what signals my body had been sending to me. I had created structure and held myself to it - self-discipline comes easily to me - and therefore, felt I had enough awareness around my food choices.
After a few days, I opened myself up to the possibility that there might be more to this than I’d previously imagined. I was flooded by how little awareness I truly had. I had rarely asked myself why I was making a decision about what to eat outside of its nutritional value, and asking myself how I felt about it was completely foreign. I thought it was a waste of time. Why do feelings need to come into food? I thought. If I’m not emotionally eating, then who cares about how I feel? I didn’t know that I had been shutting off an entire world where food choices could be intuitive, exciting, and connect me more closely to my body.
Most of us (Americans in particular) are disconnected from food due to the messages that we adopt about how we “should” eat from friends, family, society, and even studies that are heavily funded by food conglomerates (see references for podcasts about this - and definitely do your research when you see nutritional studies). Conscious eating is a way that we become aware of our bodies, our choices through food, and how what we’re eating is affecting us (did you know that 65% of the population is allergic to dairy, and that in some countries that number is closer to 90%, and yet average person in the U.S. consumes 276 pounds of dairy products in a year? It begs the question, how many people are so used to feeling sick that they don’t even realize that they don’t feel well?).
Not recognizing our bodies’ signs is one manifestation of unconscious eating. Unconscious eating can also look like emotional eating, overeating, and eating because we feel obligated.Bringing conscious awareness to eating leads to:
- the ability to make a decision that supports what our body needs.
- the ability to be present for and fully enjoy what we’re eating.
- eating as a meditative act, as we’re in the present moment.
By definition, we can only bring consciousness to one thing at a time. The first step in conscious eating is to create space and time for yourself to only focus on eating (no, no Netflix, reading, or social media. Real people are good, though). Here are some other practices to build your eating consciousness:
- Name your hunger level and emotional state before eating. Check in, and be aware of how you’re feeling as you’re eating, and after. Don’t judge what comes up - simply notice what is happening for you.
- Take a few deep breaths before eating.
- Practice eating as meditation by bringing your mind back to the present moment when it begins to wander. Notice your food - what kinds of textures, smells, tastes are you experiencing? What do you like? What don't you like?
- Create a space for community when you eat. Share a meal with a friend or loved one and use the time to intentionally connect and share with each other.
- Take a break in the middle of your meal to notice how you’re feeling. Take a few breaths and check in with your body. Allow yourself to tap out if you’re full, or keep eating if you aren’t!
Conscious eating is a practice, much like any other practice that works to increase consciousness. Patience with yourself is integral to this process - it can be frustrating when we become aware of what was easier left unconscious. Something to keep in mind when this happens is that whenever a different level of awareness is reached, there is so much to be celebrated as we can now make an informed, aware decision. Each time we practice bringing consciousness to our eating, we’re aligning ourselves with our bodies, affirming that our health and what our body needs is a priority. We’re actively choosing to love ourselves. We’re participating in true self care.