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Path to Health - Day 14: Mindful Eating

First off, let me apologize for not making a journal yesterday. My Sunday schedule is radically different than the rest of my normal week, and I only have a small window of opportunity most Sundays to write a journal. Unfortunately, since Sundays are also my Cheat Days, my body was feeling rather wrecked to the point that it made me much more susceptible to negative emotions. ...And it just so happened that a few circumstances arose that put me in a really foul mood during the only time I could have written a journal, and I just really didn't feel up to it at the time. I want these journals to be informative and helpful--I want them to be of a certain caliber of quality--and I didn't want my nasty mood to affect that. Bad stuff happens to us all in life, unfortunately, and that can throw us off track. So I'm just writing today what I would have written about yesterday, and we'll pick up from here.

Today I want to talk about a practice most of us neglect, but can be a critical factor in differentiating eating the proper amounts versus stuffing our faces until we feel ready to hurl. This is a practice called mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply being consciously present in the current moment, and it's both an interesting and beneficial practice, because it can lead us to a completely new mindset that's more peaceful and accepting of reality, which can relieve us of many of the stresses we feel in our lives. As David Cain, writer on the topic of mindfulness, likes to put it: "Right Now is where we spend 100% of our time."

Think about what you typically think about while you're eating. Are you completely present with your food as it enters your mouth, or are you normally distracted by something else? Our usual practice of eating is so autonomously mechanical that we find ourselves doing something else while eating, even if it's just thinking about something--anything--other than our food. I know I myself feel practically out of place at times if I'm eating WITHOUT distracting myself with something such as watching TV or a movie. The typical American "family dinner" anymore usually takes place around a screen (or several). We load up our plates and sit in front of a TV to watch something together, regularly checking Facebook or text messages on our phone between bites. Even in the past, in the allegedly "good old days," family dinner was eaten at a table where everyone discussed events of the day. That old-fashioned version may be better for building social and familial bonds, but it still serves as a distraction from paying attention to the food itself.

We've made eating a passive activity instead of an active one. So many of us love to eat food that excites our tastebuds with copious sugars, fats, salts, and oils, but then once we acquire this food that we know will light up our brains, instead of placing it in a proper place of central focus, we set it to be background noise as we look to excite the rest of our senses with something else. This behavior is a product of a society that has us jacked in and wired up to receive almost every base impulse as a manner of instant gratification. We're just looking for that next dopamine hit to convince ourselves that we're doing things right in our lives.

...And yet, after all is said and done, we end up feeling empty, devoid of true lasting pleasure or meaning to our lives, because our lives have become more about flash than about substance.

So what does mindful eating look like? It's actually quite simple: you take a bite of food or sip of drink and just fixate your mind on the experience going on inside your mouth. What does your food taste like? What is it's texture like? How does that texture change after the first chew? The second and third? What do you smell when bringing it up to your mouth? What's the temperature like? How does it feel moving down your throat? How full does your belly feel right now?

Try not to label certain experiences as "good" or "bad"--simply work at cataloging each experience. If any other thoughts come up while you're eating--any non-food thoughts--just acknowledge that they exist and let them go. Mindfulness is a highly foreign practice to most of us, especially those of us raised in Western Civilization. Yet it's simplicity and tranquility seem so light and airy that it's almost deceptive as to how potent a practice it can be. When you make mindfulness a habitual practice, you will find far more enjoyment out of any moment in your life, great or small, mundane to monumental. "Boredom" is simply a product of a mind that has been so trained to keep seeking certain types of dopamine-inducing entertainment that it fails to recognize the pure awesomeness that every moment inherently contains.

And what's more, as you practice mindful eating, not only you will find that food you normally thought before as "boring" can actually be exciting and intriguing, but you will also find that you pay more attention to what your body is craving and how full or hungry you actually are. You'll stop turning to eating just for "something to do." You'll start noticing the vibrant feelings that healthier, fresher food gives you. And in turn, your body will become healthier overall, with better food fueling it, healthier organ function, lower stress, and a greater sense of peace and enjoyment in every area of your life.

Make mindfulness a habit, and get healthy by eating mindfully. To get started with mindfulness, I suggest reading David Cain's entry here: How to Make Mindfulness a Habit With Only a Tiny Commitment