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Three Steps to Improve Your Relationship With Food

Eating mindfully benefits the soul and the stomach.

Elizabeth Gilbert's wildly popular memoir, Eat, Pray, Love highlights her peak gastronomic and meditative experiences. In the New York Times bestseller, the author divides blissful eating and mindfulness into two separate experiences: in Italy it was about the food, and in India it was about the meditation. In this blog post, I'm merging the two--meditation and eating--together, and the result will be good for the mind and the waistline.

Mindful Eating's Evil Twin, Mindless Eating

We in the United States are known to be a hardworking lot. The frenetic pace that characterizes our daily lives means that eating becomes more of a task to get done as soon as possible rather than something to enjoy and appreciate.

We're so busy checking off items from our to-do lists that we don't think about nourishing our bodies until hunger hits. And by the time we're hungry, we're ready to scarf down anything that will make us feel full as fast as possible. Mindless eating often leads us to a fast food chain's drive-through. In the time it takes to say, "Supersize it," we've inhaled something so easy to eat that it doesn't require utensils or even much chewing.

Once a meal's over, we often don't realize how much we ate. At the end of the day, we may even struggle to recall what we put in our bodies. Over time, we may find ourselves gaining weight without really knowing why. Meanwhile, rushing through mealtime reinforces bad eating habits. No wonder why the obesity epidemic has been so difficult to tackle.

What is Mindful Eating?

Basically, it removes the fast out of fast food. If you've ever visited one of the many Zen centers throughout the U.S., you know that meals are eaten in silence. Zen Buddhists believe that feeding their bodies is part of their contemplative practice. Mindful eating takes meditative practice off the cushion or our special meditation chair and puts it directly into our daily lives. Once we're able to blur the line between our particular meditative practice and everyday existence, we are that much closer to leading a meditative life; one that is fully present in the moment.

Three Easy Steps to Mindful Eating

The good news is that you can practice mindful eating anywhere. It just takes a bit of planning ahead, which will be the biggest challenge if you've never given mealtimes much thought. Rather than last minute eating, you'll need to set aside time for meals. Here are three easy guidelines:

1. Set aside time for meals; it could be just 15 minutes.
2. Do not multi-task--no e-mails, texting, watching TV, or talking on the phone.
3. As you eat, chew thoroughly and throughout your meal focus on what you're putting into your body--pay attention to the tastes, the textures, and the thoughts that arise.

"My day-to-day responsibilities make it impossible to eat mindfully!" you may insist. While this may truly be the case for a few of us, I've been the therapist for individuals across all walks of life. I know the intimate details of my client's lives, and I can honestly say that all of them have it within their schedules to eat mindfully--that doesn't mean that they'll necessarily do it, but if they really wanted to, they could.

Furthermore, when you consider the benefits, eating mindfully takes on a greater importance. First, food tastes better because we're focusing on flavor rather than just filling our stomachs. Second, we eat less because we give our stomachs time to signal fullness to our brains, and this can lead to weight loss-for those of us who seek slimmer waist lines, isn't that worth 15 minutes?

Personal Transformation, One Meal at a Time

If you have a regular meditative practice, you understand its benefits. And if you don't, getting started is simple. It doesn't require a guru's guidance on how to maintain your posture and breathe properly. In fact, you can start with your next meal. Follow the three steps, I've described, and see how food takes on greater meaning in your life. If mindfulness practice is about personal change, then mindful eating will transform the way you nourish and care for your body.

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