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Mindful Eating

Mindful Eating is the new buzzword in the dieting industry. Sounds self explanatory, obvious and rather simple but consider these scenarios:

• You have gone to lunch with your colleagues. Not exactly famished but feel you need food; you buy the standard paneer roll at the canteen. One friend has brought cake that she has baked to lunch and keeps it out on the table. You decide to eat a small piece but it is just too good to stop and you end up eating 3 large pieces.

• At a dinner party there are some appetizers being served. There is not much conversation happening at the party and you fill time eating appetizers and before you know it are too full for dinner. Not to be rude to your host you take a plate for dinner and serve yourself very little. The fish curry is amazing and you do not get to eat fish often so you take a few more servings.

• At home after the kids have gone to school and you get some mid-morning hunger pangs. You begin to snack on some low fat chewda. You eat while checking your email and in some time look down only to find that the entire dubba is gone. You taste a bit on your tongue but do not even recall eating so much.

Do these scenarios sound familiar? They happen too often and mindless eating is not so difficult to overcome. So what exactly does Mindful Eating mean and how can it help you in weight control?

Mindfulness is the moment to moment awareness of life. But it is not that simple as we get caught up in our own thoughts and rush to do daily tasks.

Mindfulness comes from the Buddhist philosophy of being aware of what is happening in the present and living in the present. If any of you have taken an Art of Living Course you may have noticed the same philosophy of living in the present and not the past or future.

Obesity epidemics in the US have spurred changing the physical makeup of food by making low fat, low sugar products. The physical change of people through various weight loss diets, medicines and surgeries has also been tried. But in the end it is all in the mind. If you are determined to watch what you eat and get regular exercise then the chances of weight control are greater. Hence mindful eating.

Mindful eating involves paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside the body. We use all our senses to pay attention to the flavors, colors, aromas, textures, temperatures, and even the sounds of our food. We pay attention to how the body is feeling when we are eating. Where in the body do we feel hunger? Where do we feel satisfaction? When you feel full or half-full.

Equally important we also pay attention to the mind. Be aware and see how the mind gets distracted by a phone call, television or the computer. We notice the impulse and return to just eating. It is also the conscious decisions we make on which foods to eat. We should be eating foods that are nourishing the body and not those that offer no nutrition or are harmful.

We also notice how eating affects our mood and how our emotions like how anxiety and stress influence our eating. Food becomes the comforter, the thing to turn to when all is not well.

The old habits of eating and not paying attention are not easy to change. Lasting change takes time, and is built on many small changes. If you have ever tried meditation you know how easily the mind wonders and how many other thoughts enter into your mind. So how can we practice this technique?

This exercise is extreme but it makes you pay attention to your food and make you more aware when you are eating. Try this exercise with a friend:

1. Each of you takes a plate of one phulka and one subzi. Any food you would have for lunch.

2. Take one bite of the roti subzi and close your eyes. Do not begin to chew.

3. Try not to think of anything else, just focus on what is in your mouth. Notice anything that comes to mind about taste, texture, and sensation going on in your mouth.

4. Begin to chew and notice similar sensations again. Focus on your jaw and see how it is moving. Chew at least 30 times.

5. Swallow. Feel the food go down your throat and into your stomach.

6. Take a deep breath and exhale.

7. Repeat the process until the food is finished.

8. Discuss your feelings with your friend.

You cannot obviously eat like this all the time but the exercise will make you understand how to use all your senses and you will become more aware of your own eating habits.

Here are a few other suggestions for eating mindfully:

1. Start small. Try eating mindfully for one meal a day initially.

2. Sit at the table. If you have to balance a plate elsewhere then it is difficult to concentrate on the food.

3. Turn off the TV and computer. You should be eating and only eating.

4. Serve yourself the portion you want and bring that prepared plate to the table only. Make it look nice on the plate and appreciate the appearance.

5. Put down the cutlery between bites. This will help you eat slower. If eating with your hands, consciously give them a rest.

6. Chew at least 30 times before swallowing.

7. Make the meal last 20 minutes.

8. Share your mindfulness with your family. It is difficult to practice mindfulness in a social setting and practicing with your family will help you accomplish this. Talk about the taste, texture, smell, etc of the food. Your kids will love to give inputs.

9. Learn to enjoy food in a different way…a slow and mindful way!

Published in Citadel, June 2010

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