We’ve all heard the saying: “We are what we eat.”
Of course, there’s truth to this statement. There’s a reason why we feel better when we eat fruits, vegetables, and whole foods and worse when we eat junk. Everything we eat and drink directly affects our cells, which need specific vitamins and minerals to function. These cells are grouped together as tissues and then organs that compose our bodies and sustain our lives. We need nutrient-rich food to stay healthy and energized.
But at my recent mindful eating workshop, I set out to show everyone: “We are how we eat."
When I struggled with disordered eating, I ate “perfectly.” Every single one of my meals included vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and/or healthy fats. I took supplements to make up for any deficiencies. I avoided sugar, gluten, dairy, soy, and processed foods.
I bought organic and local as much as possible. I picked up superfoods at every trendy health food store and juice joint in Manhattan. I ate probiotic-rich fermented veggies and drank bone broth to strengthen my gut. I stayed hydrated. I watched my portions. I tried my best to eat three meals at approximately the same time each day.
And yet, I was left wanting. No matter what or how much I ate, I always felt hungry. No food seemed to give me the energy I desired. I was exhausted. My digestion was a mess. My menstrual cycle was nowhere to be found. I felt like it was nearly impossible to concentrate on anything other than food and my body.
So, I continued to search for a way of eating and exercising that would solve my problem. I constantly asked myself:
“What am I missing?”
“What am I doing wrong?”
“Why are so many other health-conscious people bursting with energy and excitement, while I’m confused, anxious, and overwhelmed?”
At the time, I didn’t realize what I was missing. I didn’t realize that my mind was so consumed with worry over whether or not I was eating the right foods and how they were going to affect my body that it left no room for gratitude, enjoyment, curiosity, or understanding.
I approached every meal in fear (whether I knew it or not). I didn't want to gain weight. I didn't want to fall back into old unhealthy patterns. Stuck in my own head, I completely removed myself from the actual experience of eating. My mind was disconnected from my body.
As I ate my nutritious meals quickly and anxiously, I didn’t notice the swarm of fearful, stress-inducing thoughts flying through my mind. It took me a long time to acknowledge what was really happening, and even longer to understand its negative impact on my body.
I studied the physical and psychological benefits of mindful eating and put techniques into practice. Not only did I experience an instant improvement in my digestion, energy, mood, and body composition, I also became more present, focused, productive, and graceful in other areas of my life.
Our thoughts and feelings impact our bodies on a cellular level, just as much as the food we eat.
Science shows that chronic stress can halt digestion, disrupt hormones, damage the immune system, raise blood pressure, and even shorten life expectancy. When our sympathetic "fight or flight" nervous system is buzzing in the background, our bodies are constantly under attack, so our biological resources are allocated to relieve the pressure.
On the flip side, positive thoughts of joy, gratitude, and forgiveness are proven to ignite the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for the body’s “rest and digest” activities like sexual arousal, muscle and tissue repair, fuel storage (increased insulin activity), salivation, digestion, detoxification, resistance to infection, and waste elimination.
Moral of the story: In addition to eating nutrient-rich food, we quite literally need positive, loving, and empowering thoughts to foster health and vitality.
Here are three ways to start eating mindfully now:
- Show gratitude. Expressing gratitude before you eat helps you to slow down, center yourself, appreciate the food you've been given, acknowledge what you're putting into your body, and activate the balanced mind-body connection needed for optimal digestion, nutrient absorption, and metabolism. As a bonus, take a deep breathe of gratitude before each bite.
- Chew. Chewing your food thoroughly (ideally until liquid) prolongs your eating experience, elevates your senses, enhances the communication between your brain and organs, and releases saliva with a special digestive enzyme not found anywhere else in the digestive tract. As Kundalini Yoga master Yogi Bhajan would always say: "Chew well. Your stomach has no teeth."
- Have a conversation with yourself. While you're chewing your food and continuing to breathe, stay present with your thoughts and take back your power. Recite the internal mantra: "I'm nourishing myself with..." Proactively connecting with this intention throughout your meal will support you in slowing down, chewing thoroughly, enjoying the experience, and stopping when you're satisfied.
If you already know these tips, but can't seem to consistently put them into practice, I highly recommend we connect here.
If you feel called to learn the full spectrum of mindful eating techniques and how to tune into your body's unique hungry and fullness signals, please join me at one of my upcoming mindful eating and meditation workshops. I would love to see you there.
Sending you love and light!