Taking Mindfulness to the Dinner Table

Did you know that what you eat directly impacts how you function throughout the day? 

Another question: have you ever poured maple syrup into your car’s gas tank? 

Hopefully not. 

But what’s the point here, why these seemingly unrelated questions? 

Well, think of it this way — your gut is the gas tank of your body, and what you put into the tank directly affects how your body operates. Just as you’d never pour anything besides gasoline into the gas tank in order to preserve the life of your car, you should never put anything into your gut that won’t positively impact you. Mindful eating is a useful tool in making sure you begin making healthy choices for both your mental and physical wellbeing. 

Mindful eating

A couple things might come to mind when you hear the phrase “mindful eating.” You might picture yogic images where eating is ritualistic and meals consist of kale, quinoa and cashew milk. While we have nothing against any of the above, we’re here to tell you that mindful eating isn’t as new age as you might think.

Mindfulness is, “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us,” according to one source on mindfulness. Another source defines mindfulness as, “The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”  

Consequently, mindful eating is taking this concept and applying it to mealtimes. By engaging all of your senses during preparation and eating, as well as being mindfully selective of ingredient choices and nutritional value, you can experience the benefits of mindfulness not just on your mental health, but your physical health as well. 

Benefits of mindful eating 

Slowing down 

For most people, life is crazy busy. There are appointments to get to, friends to meet for dinner, side hustles to focus on, workouts to complete, etc.. Mindful eating gives you the opportunity to temporarily step back from the insanity of your schedule and focus on your body and its needs. It’s not selfish; on the contrary, it’s rightly ordered. How’re you supposed to be able to make it to all these commitments if you’re not taking time to care for yourself?

One of the key aspects of mindful eating is sitting down at the table without distractions or electronic devices in order to be fully present to the food in front of you. Setting aside mealtimes as time to refocus, recharge and replenish your body will keep you accountable to your mindful eating practices in addition to giving you a period of rest in your day.

Less energy focused on food 

For some, planning what to eat, or even thoughts about food are sources of stress. A lot of anxiety might be present when food is also present, such as in the case of someone who is routinely focused on dieting. Dieting typically involves restriction of some kind — restricting certain ingredients like carbs, steering clear of sugar or eating only salads. Then, when they have a “cheat day,” it upsets everything, including their peace of mind. 

With mindful eating, restriction isn’t necessary. One of the benefits of mindful eating, in fact, is weight loss. This is due in part to reduced distraction during eating, and therefore the limited likelihood of overeating. It’s also a result of mindfully selecting food that will benefit the body, as well as knowing how to listen to the cues of the body, eating only when hungry and stopping when full. 

Reduced stress 

If you’re not experiencing anxiety around food because you’re confident the choices you’re making are good for you, stress levels inevitably decrease. Mealtimes characterized by mindful eating change from just one more thing you have to make time for, to a time where you give yourself the chance to rest. Being forced to slow down, breathe deeply and enjoy the food in front of you has been proven to reduce stress in those who practice. 

Healthier food choices

One of the first steps in the practice of mindful eating is planning out a grocery list before shopping. This has a twofold benefit: it gives you the chance to determine ahead of time what you need for the meals you’ve planned and helps prevent impulse shopping (which usually results in unhealthy selections as a result of cravings). 

Many food items negatively impact our health: excess sugars, dyes, preservatives and flavorings, hormones, etc., all have adverse effects on our mental and physical health if consumed regularly and in large amounts. One helpful method of giving your mental health a boost is by pursuing foods that provide your body with necessary vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Dark leafy greens, white meats high in protein (chicken, turkey, and fish), colorful vegetables, beans, whole wheat and oats are just some of the food items known to provide the human body with natural and abundant nutrients. 

Mindful eating for better mental health 

Stress, poor diet choices and busy lives have a greater impact on our bodies than we might realize, but with mindful eating practices, like intentional mealtimes that are slow, focused and well-prepared, it’s possible to reset not just your physical health, but your mental health as well.

To go one step further and get in touch with a mental health and/or mindful eating specialist, reach out to Mazzitti & Sullivan Counseling today at 800-809-2925.