Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Tao of Eating, part 2: Awareness

The experience of eating should be just that- an experience. If we fail to consciously register our food with our five senses, our brain has no idea it has eaten. Think about it. Has your brain ever taken in even a morsel of food? Of course not. Your brain experiences eating through your senses. It smells the food cooking, sees it steaming in the bowl, then tastes the warm comforting goodness as it caresses your mouth and tongue. If we fail to recognize the sensual nature of the eating experience because we are distracted and stressed, our brain may crave more food no matter how full our stomach may be.

In a culture that rewards multitasking and insists upon productivity, it is no wonder that so many Americans find themselves overweight and unhappy with their diet, no matter how health minded they try to be. It is so common, it almost goes without saying that people will eat while they drive, talk on the phone, read, write, watch TV or surf the net. Most people probably feel guilty for “wasting time” if they are simply eating, without engaging in one or more other daily tasks and assignments. Many of these same people will finish eating on the run or at their desk and within a few minutes will feel empty and unsatisfied, craving more food, even if their stomach feels full. This is because their brain has not yet eaten!

It is scientific fact that your brain plays a large role in your digestion, and it is also fact that there is another equally important and highly developed nervous system located in your abdomen, sometimes referred to as your “gut brain.” This circuit board of nerves controls every craving you have ever had and records every good and bad food choice you have ever made. It knows when it is ok for you to have chocolate and when you should definitely avoid that chili dog at the game. It understands what your body needs and sends a signal to your brain to cue that craving. If you listen very closely to your stomach, figuratively speaking, you will hear it tell you what it wants for dinner.

It is far more effective to allow your body to eat what it craves, when it craves it, than to try to enslave your “gut brain” by depriving it of what it needs based on calories alone. Your body would not crave a food that would give you thunder thighs.

Now, before you go raid the fridge, remember…. You must truly listen. Try not to go bonkers with this information. As you learn to quiet your head brain and listen more closely to your gut brain, you will hear it tell you more often than not that it craves healthful foods. You may have a need for a high fat meal, and your body may tell you it wants avocados, cheese or eggs. Or you may crave sweets, but your body passes up that double layer cherry cheesecake and chooses a chunk of dark chocolate or some fresh fruit instead.

Remember that it is alright to indulge in a food you truly love once in a while, as long as you are aware while you are eating it. That means no cramming it in your mouth before someone else notices, no eating the whole box of cookies or ice cream frantically, and absolutely no pigging out while you watch TV or do other tasks. Your cravings will only be satisfied if you are fully experiencing the food with all of your five senses.

The idea is that if you allow yourself to experience what you desire, you will be satisfied, and your cravings will decrease in frequency and intensity. Eventually you will be able to listen with awareness to your body and know exactly what you need to eat at any given moment. You will begin to eat more healthfully on a daily basis, it will be easier to turn down dessert and those late night munchies will disappear.

If you find yourself wondering how to listen to your body, try this simple exercise. When you begin to feel hungry or notice a craving coming on, take one minute to close your eyes and relax. Breath deeply, and try to clear your mind of thoughts and distractions. It is not necessary to completely empty your mind or achieve a deep state of meditation, you are simply trying to tune in so you can hear your intuition.

Ask yourself, “Am I truly hungry right now, or am I craving something other than food?” Often we use food to cover up and “medicate” other issues in our life, such as emotional distress, lack of intimacy and daily stress. It is important to make sure you are not using food as a distraction for other areas of your life that are out of balance, because emotional and stress eating leads to more dissatisfaction and inevitable weight gain.

If you find you are genuinely hungry, ask yourself simply, “What foods will nourish and satisfy me right now?” The first few times you may feel confused with what you “should” eat based on calories, strict diets or nutrition trends, but as you continue to quiet your head and listen to your gut, you will eventually be able to hear it’s infinite wisdom.

While you are eating, make sure you take the time to see, smell, and taste your food to the fullest extent. Take your time and relish the experience. Turn off electronic devices and try to remove yourself from other distractions. If you are eating with others, enjoy! Food always tastes better and is more satisfying with friends.

It is amazing how empowered you will feel as you turn away from fads and restrictive diets, and become aware of what your actual nutritional needs are. You will free yourself from feeling deprived and unsatisfied, and your body will thank you by giving you more energy and a slimmer waistline!

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