Have you’ve ever looked down at your (once-full) plate of food and realized you finished the entire thing without realizing it? If so, this post is for you.
Over the next couple of weeks I will be posting about a variety of eating habits and the dancers, athletes and movers who love them. Before getting into the WHAT of food, I wanted to talk about the HOW. To do that I turned to Maria Macsay — yoga teacher, Mind-Body Eating Coach and certified badass. Here’s her 411 on what it means to eat consciously and how to do it yourself.
What does it mean to eat mindfully?
To eat mindfully means being present to our experience as we eat. When we eat mindfully, we are aware of our body, our breath, our surroundings. We are engaged by the visuals, aromas, and tastes of our food for every moment we are in the act of eating.
How do things change when you eat with joy?
When we eat in a state of joy, we actually enhance our digestive ability and increase our nutrient absorption. My teacher often says that Vitamin P (pleasure) is one of the most important “vitamins” when it comes to how we eat. Being in a state of joy, turns on our parasympathetic system, which comes with a lot of benefits. Oxygen intake increases and blood flow returns to our midsection; both of which are crucial to the production of the enzymes we need to break down food. When we are in a state of joy, our body feels taken care of and safe— which allows us to not just feed ourselves, but more importantly, to nourish ourselves!
What inspired you to start thinking and approaching food in this way?
Living in countries like Greece and Denmark, I grew up with this kind of relationship to food. In Europe it is much more common to relish a meal and enjoy it with loved ones. When I moved to Chicago for college, I found myself having meals alone (a lot). I developed habits like multi-tasking while eating and eventually became quite the speedy consumer. Fast forward through IBS, various digestive issues, healing IBS…. I became afraid of food and borderline fanatic about what I ate. My digestive disorders had healed, but I had an eating disorder known as orthorexia. Which — long story short — ran my life.
Over time, and in observing my experiences, I found that when I was sharing a meal with friends or family, when I was present to the experience, when I was on vacation (aka more relaxed), I was able to be more mindful of how I was eating. I began rehabbing my relationship to food. It didn’t necessarily matter WHAT I ate, but that HOW I ate that was crucial in allowing me to feel good. A few years later, I found The Institute for the Psychology of Eating, where I did my training to become a Mind-Body Eating Coach. There’s scientific evidence to supporting ease, joy, love, connection and presence as essential to improving our health and our relationship to the act and art of eating.
What is the biggest change you’ve seen in yourself?
I’m much less fanatic about food. I’m no longer thinking about food all day long, wondering what I’ll eat, worried about the effects of what I ate…etc. I’m much more present to my life in all aspects. I’m also much more aware of the feedback my body gives me about what I’m eating, which allows me to course correct and consume the things that enhance my energy and mood. When I eat something that does the opposite, I have a greater compassion for myself and understand that life is about trial and error.
Is there a simple way for people to start?
(1) Commit to sitting down to eat. This is the first step to landing in our bodies and preparing to eat. Then (2) insert 5 deep breaths before eating. This drops us into the present moment and connects us to our body. It will also turns on parasympathetic dominance (crucial for digestion, assimilation, and absorption).
Then (3) take a few moments to really see what you are about to eat. Notice the colors, shapes, ingredients. Take in the smells coming from the food. (4) Begin to eat and as you eat, notice the flavors and textures. Allow yourself to enjoy the meal before you.
It’s important not to multi-task when we eat, our brains can only register one thing at a time. So if you are scrolling and eating, your brain will not register your meal and will not signal to your body when you are finished. Get off your phone, turn off the TV, and be with yourself and your meal (sometimes easier said than done, but it can be done!).
Is it important to have people around you who practice food in the same way? Can you do this on your own?
You can definitely do this on your own. As with anything else, it helps when we surround ourselves with people who practice what we are working on, but it’s not necessary! You can successfully transform and enhance how you eat on your own as long as you are committed to doing so.