Have Your Cake and Think About It Too
Every day we are bombarded with information that redefines what is healthy. However, perhaps society should focus less on what we eat and, instead, think about how we eat it.
Mindful eating is the practice of focusing on the foods you consume as you do it. Rather than mindlessly shoveling a small-child sized burrito in your mouth on the way to class, mindful eaters make an effort to slow down and bring awareness to the moment and the feelings surrounding their meal.
This is not a new idea. It stems from the idea of mindfulness, or being aware of the present moment. When practicing mindfulness, a person acknowledges their thoughts and sensations as they occur. They find calmness and acceptance in the way they are right now. Mindfulness has traditions in meditation and stress-relief techniques.
I first heard of this technique a few years ago at staff training for a health and wellness summer camp. After giving each staff member a single Hershey’s Kiss, a Mayo Clinic dietician instructed us to experience the chocolate for 30 seconds prior to eating it. Experience it. Experience the Hershey’s Kiss.
Needless to say, it was weird. After listening to the Kiss whisper sweet nothings into my ear, observing the light reflecting off the silver foil, and letting the creamy, rich milk chocolate aroma fill my nose, I was more than ready to eat it. We were then instructed to take our time eating it, and not say anything. And suddenly this Hershey’s Kiss tasted like it was fresh from a chocolatier’s kitchen.
This experience was obviously more extreme than most. Relax. Mindful eating can be as simple as putting your phone down while you eat or remembering to taste your Easy Mac even though it is so warm and gooey and you already have the perfect next bite ready on your fork.
This behavior has countless benefits. It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to register that you are full and send these signals to your brain. When a person eats too quickly, the signal lags, allowing them to overeat, which can lead to discomfort, bloating and weight gain.
Additionally, being aware of the things you consume can help in emotion management. For example, some people, college students especially, turn to food to cope with stress. By building awareness around their foods, a person is less likely to harm their body with unhealthy choices. The feelings of fullness will be registered, rather than looking to their friends Ben and Jerry for a quick fix.
Lastly, mindful eating allows for a person to respond to their body’s needs, instead of shaming it with a diet or bingeing when the brain is tired. This response mechanism creates healthy habits to carry throughout a person’s daily routine.
This absolutely does not mean you have to bid farewell to your favorite study snacks. It means you should take a break to truly enjoy that Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and all it is doing for you in the moment. Yes, it brings you a small sense of comfort at the library, I know.
As a beginner, just take some time to understand why you choose the foods you do. Ask yourself if you are enjoying every bite and if it is truly satisfying your needs. Check in with your emotions in the present moment. By simply building awareness, a whole new world of food satisfaction can arise.
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