The Basics of Mindful Eating (With Dr. Rossy)
Between a 9-5 job, a family, errands, and social events, most of us lead busy, chaotic lives. Which often means we rush through our meals without being mindful of what we're eating.
We had the opportunity to interview with Dr. Lynn Rossy, who is an expert in mindful eating (having taught mindful-based interventions since 1999). She was kind enough to share her tips and advice on how we can incorporate mindful eating into our busy lifestyles. Certainly something worth striving for. Here is what she had to say:
SlimKicker: How did you discover mindful eating?
Dr. Rossy: My discovery of mindful eating started after I began meditating on a regular basis. Through the process of paying closer attention to my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, I began to notice other things as well.
I had a heightened awareness of how food and drink tasted to me and its effect on body and mood after I ate. For instance, after drinking a LOT of Diet Coke for many years (partially in an attempt to dampen my appetite), I just couldn't drink it anymore.
The chemical aftertaste in my mouth was really awful and it just didn't taste good. Increasingly, the difference between fresh, healthy food and processed food became obvious, and mindful awareness taught me mindful eating.
SlimKicker: What are the major guidelines to eating mindfully?
Dr. Rossy: Here are the BASICS of Mindful Eating I developed for the classes I teach. These are guidelines (not rules) to help you become conscious about how, what, when and why you eat.
BASICS of Mindful Eating
B â€“ Breathe And Belly Check
Breathe and belly check for hunger before you eat
Take a few deep breaths and bring your attention to your belly. Are you even hungry? How hungry are you?
What are you hungry for? Is there a particular type of food you'd like to have? You might want food. You might be thirsty. You might be hungry for something entirely different than food (eg. walking, stretching, more deep breaths). Listen to what your body is telling you. General rule: eat when you're hungry, don't eat when you're not hungry.
A â€“ Assess Your Food
What does it look like? Notice the colors of the food. Does it look appealing? What does it smell like? Where does it come from? Is it a food you can recognize (e.g. natural and unprocessed) or is it a food-like substance (e.g. so processed that you don't know where it comes from)? Ask yourself if this is the food you really want. You don't have to take a lot of time with this. A brief pause to assess your food can give you lots of information about it.
S â€“ Slow Down
Slowing down while eating can help you enjoy your food more fully. Slowing down also helps you beware of when you're getting full before you've eaten too much. Simple methods to help you slow down include putting down your fork or spoon between bites, pausing and taking a breath between bites, and chewing your food completely.
I â€“ Investigate Your Hunger Throughout The Meal
Keep bringing your attention back to eating, tasting, and assessing your hunger and satiety throughout the meal. It is particularly useful to stop half-way through your meal and take a moment to check in with your belly. You may discover you're no longer hungry even though there's food on your plate, or you may discover you don't even like the food you're eating.
Give yourself permission to stop or continue based on how hungry you are, not old rules like "you need to clean your plate."
C â€“ Chew Your Food Thoroughly
Chewing your food thoroughly helps you to slow down and your body to digest the nutrients from your food more efficiently. As a result, you will have time to really taste your food and be tuned into the signals that your hunger is dissipating. The sooner you are aware of satiety, the less likely it will be that you will over-eat.
S â€“ Savor Your Food
Savoring your food means taking time to choose food you really like and food that would satisfy you right now. To truly savor your food, you choose food that honors your taste buds and your body.
Become fully present for the experience of eating and the pleasure that it can bring. Let all of your attention be on the complete range of sensations available in each bite and feel the joy. If you can't savor it, why eat it?
SlimKicker: Can you talk and socialize while mindful eating? I know some Buddhists do not talk at all when they eat a meal.
Dr. Rossy: You can absolutely talk and socialize without completely jeopardizing eating mindfully, although it does make it more challenging. Sharing a meal with someone is such a lovely thing to do, so here are some tips to help you stay mindful at the same time.
Be aware that your attention is somewhat divided between talking, listening, and eating. The eating part is most easily forgotten, so set the intention to check in with your food and hunger throughout the meal. Put your fork or spoon down in between bites, chew thoroughly, slow down, and taste and savor your food.
When Buddhists and others choose not to talk at a meal it is usually because they are on a retreat or have decided to formally practice mindful eating. Try eating a meal in silence and see what you discover. Formal mindful eating is a lovely practice that helps train awareness on the eating process, on enjoying food, and being in the present moment.
SlimKicker: How does mindfully eating translate to eating less, and eating healthier?
Dr. Rossy: Through the process of mindful eating, there is an increased awareness of information that translates to eating less and eating healthier.
If you follow the BASICS of mindful eating above, you will be less likely to eat when you're not hungry and more likely to stop eating when you're full. You will begin to notice how different types of food affect your energy and mood. This awareness ultimately leads to choosing more often to eat food that makes you feel better. There is a vegetarian restaurant in the town where I live that serves the best local, organic, healthy food.
After I eat there I can actually feel my belly smiling at me for feeding it so well. I really don't believe people overeat and eat unhealthy food because they don't have willpower, but they haven't learned to pay attention with compassion and curiosity to what their bodies are telling them. Mindful awareness teaches us that we are worth the time it takes to be more present with how, what, and why we eat.
SlimKicker: What are the mental benefits, if any to mindful eating? Does it have similar benefits as meditation, for instance?
Dr. Rossy: Mindful eating and meditation have something in commonâ€”namely, mindfulness. When you engage in mind eating you are learning to act with respect for your body and your health. When you listen to what your body wants and needs, you are developing a more positive relationship to your body.
Instead of engaging in criticism and negativity towards yourself (which happens a lot in this culture), mindful eating is a conscious act of kindness and care leading to greater health both mentally and physically. Wouldn't you be happier if you were treated with respect and understanding?
In essence, mindful eating is meditation. Anything you bring your mindfulness to becomes a meditation practice.
What many people discover as they begin to learn mindful eating is that they have been using food as a way of feeling happy, being entertained, or avoiding unpleasant realities in their lives. When you stop using food as a "fix," you start discovering what will really satisfy you and begin to learn how to use more appropriate strategies for meeting your life head on.
SlimKicker: Most people have busy lives, so mindful eating sounds like a lot of work, and sometimes impractical. What are some baby steps ordinary people can do to get started on eating mindfully?
Dr. Rossy: The unfortunate reality is that most of us have busy, chaotic lives. But, even in the midst of it, here is what you can do.
Baby Step #1. At the very minimum, check in to see if you're hungry before you eat. And, remember, as a general guideline you want to eat when you're hungry and not eat when you're not hungry.
Baby Step #2. Really taste the first bite. That's where you get the most flavor and enjoyment. Don't miss it. You might discover it's so wonderful you want to keep paying attention to eating, or you might discover it doesn't even taste good and not eat it at all.
Baby Step #3. Stop and breathe half way through your meal. It may be the first time you've breathed since you started eating and your body needs to slow down in order to digest your food. At the same time, you can check in with whether you are still hungry or not.
I have to add, though, that the busier you are the more important it is for you to eat mindfully. You can't afford not to. If you are busy, you need all the energy you can get and the best way to get energy is to eat well. Although mindful eating might sound like it takes a lot of extra time, it really doesn't need to.
Yes, it may take a bit longer than what you're used to, but the benefits are incredible and give you more time because you have more energy and focus.
SlimKicker: What are some other concrete ways people can incorporate mindfulness in their daily lives? Such as in their workplace?
Dr. Rossy: Mindfulness in daily life happens anytime you decide to be present for what you're doing. Here are few tips to take you to and through the workday.
1. Take five mindful deep breaths when you first wake up and remind yourself that it's great to be alive and to have a job to go to. At the same time, set the intention to be mindful. I strongly believe in the power of intention, and there are hardly any better intentions than gratitude and mindfulness.
2. When you leave home in the morning, be aware of the sights, sounds, and other sensations during your travel to work, whether you go by car, bus, subway, bike, or walk. This can be as simple as noticing the beautiful clouds in the sky, the sound of a bird, or the smile of someone walking by.
3. At work, do one thing at a time. People often talk about how proud they are of how many things they can do at once, but no one's brain is capable of doing more than one thing at a time well. You might switch from one task to another fairly quickly, but you can only focus on one thing. When you get distracted, keep bringing yourself back to the task at hand.
4. Be mindful of your body and take mini-breaks away from the computer or task every 60 to 90 minutes to walk around the block, take some deep breaths, get a drink of water, stretch, or eat a healthy snack (depending on what your body is asking for). These breaks can be as short as 20 seconds or as long as 15 minutes, depending on your circumstances and need.
5. Practice mindfulness of listening. Make the person you are listening to the focus of your attention. Your co-workers, colleagues, and clients will feel appreciated and respected, and who doesn't like that!
6. Practice mindfulness of talking. Watch the tendency to engage in gossip or other negative speech. It doesn't make you or others feel good. Watch the tendency to talk about how busy you are. Watch this and other language that contributes to you feeling overwhelmed. Instead, think of positive things to say, engage in showing appreciation for others, reframe your work in a positive manner.
7. As you make the transition back home after the workday ends, take a few deep breaths and let go of your thoughts about work. Become centered in the sights and sounds that surround you. Set the intention to bring your whole self to your family, friends, and activities outside of work. This practice helps create the work-life balance we all strive for.
8) Do you think too much technology such as social media, texting, etc. is a hindrance to mindful living?
As with anything, moderation is the key. Technology has been a wonderful device to connect us with others at a distance and more regularly as well as give us immediate information about anything we want to know about. On the other hand, too much technology keeps us from engaging with ourselves and the world in a more natural manner.
Studies have associated use of technology to poor mental health outcomes such as depression and symptoms of ADHD. All of us in the tech-savvy world have experienced the careless mistakes, forgetfulness, and impulsiveness that occurs while trying to engage in too many types of technologies (often all at once).
Use of the computer late into the night is related to poor sleep patterns. And, the use of technology is changing the neuronal circuits in our brains in less than positive ways.
Tips for mindful technology use: Turn off the "tech" at regular and scheduled times (e.g. one hour before bedtime, on Sundays). Turn off the little buzzers and other notification sounds that ask for your attention every time someone sends something your way. Decide to check email, facebook, text, twitter, etc. at designated times. Take back control over technology. Don't let it control you.
SlimKicker: Thanks for all the helpful advice, Dr. Rossy! I'm sure our members appreciate it!