Be Light and Healthy

Being Present

Posted on: December 12, 2010

“What lingers in the memory are only the moments when we’re truly present, whether those moments were momentous or ordinary.  The rest of the time, when we’re doing things just to get them finished, simply going through the motions of life – all of those days, months, years recede into a gray blur.”  Dr. Stephan Rechtschaffen

Life’s pace seems to quicken even more than usual during the holidays.  It’s easy to find ourselves just going through the motions as we frantically rush to complete a myriad of tasks.  By the time the big day arrives, we are often so harried and exhausted that we just continue to go through the motions instead of being present and relishing the experience.  We can all recall big and little moments in our lives that stand out in our memories.  Events that invoke deep emotion naturally draw us into the moment by heightening our senses and creating an illusion that life is happening in slow motion.  My father died over 20 years ago; yet, I can still vividly remember that day in great detail.  I can also intensely recall simple moments like going for a walk with my husband.  What these momentous and ordinary experiences have in common is that my senses were heightened because I was fully present in the moment. 

Eating mindlessly has become a habit for many of us and can lead to bingeing or unintentional overeating.  We eat while we’re working, reading, driving, watching TV, or standing at the kitchen counter.  When we’re in a rush, we shovel food into our mouths practically inhaling it and eliminating the chewing process.  We don’t take the time to enjoy and savor the experience.  Have you ever finished eating and realized that you hadn’t even tasted what you put in your mouth?  Being present when eating is a complete sensory experience that can contribute to the joy in our lives and help us to appreciate the nourishment that we are feeding our bodies.  Because children don’t understand the concept of time, they naturally live in the moment.  When they eat, they take the time to explore what they’re eating often looking at the food, picking it up, smelling it, feeling the texture, and even noticing the crunching sounds.  The following suggestions will help you become more mindful when you eat:   

  • Determine if you feel physically vs. emotionally hungry.  If it’s emotional hunger, are you lacking primary foodsJoshua Rosenthal, founder of Institute for Integrative Nutrition, characterizes primary foods as relationships, career, spirituality, and exercise – aspects of our lives that nourish our souls. 
  • Our sense of smell helps us to identify different flavors and is crucial to tasting food, which is why my mother-in-law had her children hold their noses when swallowing bitter medicine.  Chocolate has an easily identifiable, distinct taste; however, when you hold your nose while eating it, the flavor is absent.  Smells also serve as a strong connection to our memories.  The scent of home-baked cookies immediately invokes memories of my mother’s kitchen.  As our mouths water in response to enticing aromas, the digestion process begins. 
  • Chewing is an important part of the digestion process.  When you chew, notice the texture of the food.  Take the time to chew each bite and notice the flavors.  Many plant foods do not release their sweet flavor until they are thoroughly chewed.  If you chew brown rice long enough, you will taste the sweetness. 
  • Pay attention to what your food looks like.  Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are enticing and look alive in stark contrast to the lifeless look of reheated processed foods.      
  • Notice the sounds associated with your food like the crunch of a raw carrot.
  • When possible, enjoy your food in a quiet, relaxing environment.  Set the mood by eliminating distractions and sitting at a beautifully set table. 
  • When dining with others, take pleasure in their company and conversation.
  • When dining alone, use the opportunity to eat mindfully without any distractions.  
  • Prior to picking up your fork, take a moment to really see and smell your food.  Pause to reflect and give thanks for the many people and steps it took to get the food to your table.
  • Using chopsticks or putting your fork down between bites will help you learn to savor a meal.

By using these guidelines, I learned that I was consuming some foods out of habit and never really tasting them.  I lost the desire for many of them once I started eating them consciously.  Being attentive and tasting your food will help you determine when you are full and lessen the tendency to overeat.  By incorporating these tips into your life, you will start to intuitively recognize what and how much food your body needs to nourish itself. 

By paying attention, I’ve also discovered that I don’t sleep well if I choose to have a cocktail, a sweet, or eat late in the evening.  Depending on the circumstances, I often choose to forego the indulgence; other times I consciously opt for it knowing that I may not feel my best in the morning.  Consciously making the choice allows me to feel in control, enjoy the moment, accept the consequences, and let it go. This acceptance is in stark contrast to the aftermath of a mindless binge where the entire episode was a blur.  After I was roused out of my stupor, I’d realize that I’d unconsciously overeaten and neglected to taste the food thus fueling the mental abuse that I continuously heaped upon myself.  It is important to notice how your body feels during and after bingeing, overeating, or consuming unhealthy food.  The lingering memory of how you feel after you’ve eaten helps you avoid repeating the negative behavior in the future. 

I invite you to try being fully present when eating by slowing down and taking pleasure in the entire experience.  Notice how different aspects of eating and foods influence how you feel.  By taking your time to experience and savor even one meal a week, you will begin to reap the benefits.  Being present during ordinary moments like eating can assist you on your journey towards good health.  In addition, I invite you to sign up for weekly e-mail updates to get informed and inspired to Be Light and Healthy.

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