About five years ago, I was in Paris for a week to celebrate my birthday. It was one of the happiest times of my life. As I strolled the streets of that breathtakingly beautiful city, it wasn’t just the stunning architecture, the carefully manicured gardens, or the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower that captured my attention. It was the Parisians themselves. Sure, they’re far more stylishly dressed than the vast majority of Americans. They’re also thinner, and what I noticed about them could explain why. Consider this: I didn’t see a single Parisian eating or drinking anything whatsoever while walking down the street.
When Parisians have a cup of coffee, they sit down in a cafe to drink it. When they eat a croissant or even a piece of fruit, they’re sitting at a table. They stop what they’re doing and savor the experience of food and drink. Think about how often we Americans eat in the car, at the computer, in front of the television, standing up, or rushing down the street to make a meeting on time. If we’re honest, I bet most of us would admit to doing one of those things at some point every day. So how many excess calories do we consume when we eat in such a mindless fashion? It’s food for thought, so to speak.
Kathie Madonna Swift, a nutritionist and Kripalu faculty member, says that paying attention to what we’re eating affects our digestion as well (which must have some bearing on our waistlines). She advocates mindful eating and the importance of chewing carefully—which also aids digestion.
I know I’m as guilty as the next American of mindless, or unconscious, eating. I've been mystified by how a bag of chips or grapes became empty so suddenly. What was I doing?
The answer is something other than paying attention to what I was putting in my mouth. When I do make the effort to eat consciously, when I stop what I’m doing, sit at a table, savor the smells and textures of my food, and chew it thoroughly, I invariably feel satiated sooner and consume fewer calories. And, according to Swift, I also digest my food more easily.
To put it into practice, try this 10-step guide to mindful eating from Kripalu presenter Alison Shore Gaines, a Kripalu Yoga teacher, nutrition consultant, and holistic health educator.
The 10-Step Mindful Eating Meditation
1. Create sacred space. Whether you place flowers on the table and light an elegant candle or simply arrange your food artfully on your plastic cafeteria plate, serve yourself as though you matter.
2. Breathe. Begin with five deep, slow breaths.
3. Attune to your body. Scan your physical body. Where are you holding tension? Relax and let go.
4. Attune to thoughts and emotions. Acknowledge active issues and intentionally place them aside for now, to be handled at another time.
5. Create a prayer, gratitude, or intention for this meal.
6. Attune to your senses. Before taking the first mouthful, contemplate the colors, shapes, textures, aromas, and temperature of your food.
7. Take your first mouthful, close your eyes, savor, and chew thoroughly. Chewing fully aids digestion, alkalizes the food, and adapts it to your body chemistry, slows you down, and helps you feel satisfied with less food. To focus your mind, repeat your prayer or count the chews. Each mouthful is an experience in itself. Are you still breathing?
8. Receive each swallow consciously. Acknowledge digestion. Acknowledge receiving. So often we receive without absorbing—from food, from relationships, from spirit.
9. Pause often throughout your meal to breathe and tune into your belly. When the belly feels satisfied, notice if there is part of you wanting more food. With compassion, notice what you need. If you need comfort, take great comfort from the next morsel; if you crave sensual enjoyment, receive every nuance of sensuality. When we're not aware of or compassionate with our needs, we become split from an essential part of ourselves, leading to compulsive behavior. Through compassion and connection with the whole self, we heal ourselves and our lives.
10. Digest. Sit back, breathe, and acknowledge digestion, enhancing satisfaction and well-being. Consciously sending oxygen to the belly helps us relax after a meal, digest and assimilate better, and receive nourishment on all levels.
Portland Helmich is the creator, host, and producer of the Kripalu Perspectives podcast series. She has been investigating natural health and healing as a host, reporter, writer, and producer for more than 15 years.
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