Eating Mindfully

To Help You Make Better Food Choices

Driving my son home from school takes us through the downtown core. It's great people watching. I see people rushing around, eating on the run. Walking with Starbucks coffee or other drinks in hand. These sights lead me to think about mindfulness, or mindlessness (as the case may be) and eating.

I wonder: are those people really enjoying that food (that may or may not be nourishing them)? Are they noticing how they feel when they eat or drink that? If not, what a shame (and a waste of good food)!

I also wonder if those people have digestive discomfort. You see, when we rush around or are otherwise stressed or occupied, the part of our nervous system that helps us to digest our food properly (the parasympathetic nervous system) is not fully functioning. Our bodies are prioritizing getting away from the stressor (that might be a hungry bear that's chasing us or the mad rush of modern life) rather than digesting our food. To properly digest our food we need to be relaxed and not focused on other things.

In our society there seems to be food every time we turn around and often, it's not food that's going to nourish and sustain us. The grocery store that I go to often seems to have free cake to celebrate a birthday or some other event. Most social events also seem to revolve around food or drink too. That's not necessarily a bad thing, there is a social aspect to eating that can be an important part of the experience. But these situations do create more obstacles for those of us who are trying to eat healthfully and mindfully.

Eating whenever food crosses our path disconnects us from experiencing and understanding our body's cues. What it's like to feel hungry, what it's like to feel full. When do we truly want/need to eat something and when are we eating because that's what's expected in a given situation. And perhaps if we frequently eat on the run or without paying attention we may miss out on further understanding of which foods truly help us to feel our best, and which foods do not.

For the past couple years, I've been experimenting with intermittent fasting – a pattern of eating where you extend the length of time between the last meal of the day and the first meal of the following day (see Dr. Sarrasin's article from last month for more information). While not right for everyone, this has given me more information about how my body feels when hungry and full (and over full). I've also learned more about how my body feels with certain foods, versus others.

Paying closer attention to how we feel when we eat (and don't eat) will help us to make better nutritional decisions. The focus here is not only about eating healthy food but if we choose to eat food that doesn't serve us so well, let's go in with our eyes open! Most likely we will make those choices less often. This is isn't about judgement for what or when we eat, it's about learning more about our own bodies and impulses so that we can truly enjoy our food and more often eat the foods that are best for us.

Here is my challenge to you.

For the next week, every time you consider eating something, ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I hungry?
  • Is this the right time to enjoy this?
  • Would there be a better time/situation to enjoy this food?
  • Do I really feel like eating this right now?
  • How will I feel later if I don't/do eat this now?
  • How do I feel after eating that?

This is about noticing and gathering information, not judging. The goal is more awareness to help you make healthy decisions about food and feel good about them!

Bon appétit!


Dr. Alexis Blanks, ND