Do you ever feel like you have an inner bully? A voice continually struggling to try and shove you toward poor food choices, impulsive behavior or destructive relationships? Are you at a point where you’re curious how to cultivate a healthier approach to eating? Today I’d like to share some tips on mindful living and mindful eating and the one powerful way they are connected—time.
I’m a certified nutrition consultant. I help people make small but profound changes in their daily routines, to reach their health goals. Many of my clients report they would love to slow down, if they only had more time. When I approach the topic of cooking more of their own meals, I often hear the same answer. They would love to cook more, if only they had more time.
Can you relate? I’m sure many of us can. How do we begin to carve out time for mindfulness and mindful eating choices when life is constantly getting in the way. If you’re not feeling pushed or pulled by a person, place or device these days, it’s likely because you are on a vacation. Vacations are one of the best ways to see our habits from 20,000 feet and observe how much more light we can feel internally when we change our external environment. This article is about how we can learn to take mini daily vacations and return to loving kindness by allowing ourselves to just be in loving presence.
The answer to not having time is slowing down
As humans, we are the most adaptable species on the planet. Our cognitive brain structures are wired to constantly assess incoming threats. This super-human ability to tune into all of the stimulus around us was very helpful when we lived a more primitive lifestyle; migrating through forests and deserts, hunting and gathering for food, and even escaping oppressive regimes that might be chasing our people out of town. But here, in our modern civilization, the threat of danger can be more subtle and also can be cumulative. I heard a quote from Tony Robbins recently that’s worth sharing, “Stress is just another word for white people’s fears."
The daily stimuli we receive can assault our senses in a myriad of tiny but powerful ways. It can lead to a ripple effect within the body, manifesting as anxiety, shallow breathing, agitation or depression. Our cells transmit powerful messengers within them; even the most subtle forms of stress can cause us to experience a depressed immune system. The only way to address stress (i.e. fears) is through gentle, loving attention.
It’s not our fault. We are wired this way. Our human brains are designed to be problem solvers. A wise teacher once shared with me a story several years ago that I share with many of my clients. I was experiencing agitation and anxiety at work and in my personal life. I had told her many stories about dissatisfaction I was having with relationships and feeling misunderstood.
The story of the tennis ball
When we are children, she explained, and we are playing ball, predictably the ball will always escape the park or the yard, and roll into the street. Usually it rolls under a car, or across the street into a gutter, or maybe gets stuck in a tree. Have you ever noticed what happens next? Someone always goes to chase the ball. It’s inevitable. One or two of the children go and retrieve the ball so play can resume. A small problem, an easy solution. Then what she said really made me sit up and take notice. “Booka, what would happen if you were not the first one to go and retrieve the ball?’
Ah-haaa. Yes. That was me. Always wanting to chase after the ball first. To prove I was good enough. Worthy enough. Fast enough. A team player. Fill-in-the-blank. We all do this in different ways. We know we can jump in and save the situation from getting worse. We all want to be heroes. We all need to feel useful and purposeful. But in that race to feel useful, we can lose our sense of grace. Returning to loving presence is at the heart of purpose. If we are chasing the ball to please others, we will never feel fulfilled.
If you are one of the many people who has difficulty with chasing tennis balls, perhaps the first step toward mindfulness is not emptying your thoughts, as this can seem profoundly challenging. Perhaps the first step is visualizing your heart. What is your heart calling you to do? We all have the ability to reach into that vulnerable place and pause, just for a moment, to ask, what do I really need in this moment?
Helpful resources to cultivate a mindful breathing practice at home or work
- Begin to notice the power of the present moment, by slowing down several times each day, to take deep breaths and just Be. Bonus points if you do this barefoot in nature.
- Do gentle asanas or yogic poses that open your heart space, such as camel pose, scorpion and forward bend or uttanasana.
- Write a journal to process your “monkey mind thoughts" especially when waking or before going to sleep. The Artists Way by Julia Cameron is a great book.
- Take an attitude of gratitude. Write down one thing you’re grateful for; this will help to frame your mindset in the positive, which flexes your heart chakra.
- Pray or do a guided meditation. My favorite speaker is Tara Brach, and she offers both guided meditations and sermons from the Buddhist tradition.
Simple ways to begin a Mindful Eating Practice
- Take 10 breaths before eating each meal; this is a powerful way to activate your parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for rest and digest.
- Pay loving attention to the full experience of eating—smell, touch, taste and temperature. Relax as you think about the loving hands that grew the food or prepared the food. Thank them quietly. Cook your own food; the process of chopping, prepping and smelling the food over time releases the specific enzymes needed for digesting that specific food.
- Do not consume any media while eating, especially the news. It can have a negative effect on your autonomic nervous system, triggering the sympathetic nervous system.
- Eat foods that are simply prepared; try to avoid hyper-palatable foods such as packaged snacks or refined sugars. Remember the acronym JERF: Just Eat Real Food.
Click here to access additional Tips for Mindful Eating with bonus resources.
Want more support with nutrition, sugar-detoxing and a low-carb lifestyle? Coach Booka, CNC, offers simple and effective methods to get into right relationship with food to help stabilize your mood, balance your blood sugar and lose weight. Call SFNM at 415-643-6600 for a free 15-minute consult!