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Revamp Your Relationship With Food Through Mindful Eating

Revamp Your Relationship With Food Through Mindful Eating

Taking the time to enjoy the food you eat can improve your well-being.

We often talk about the power of mindful meditation to ease stress, improve sleep, reduce emotional issues like depression, anxiety and anger, and help preserve cognitive function as you age. But an amazing, untapped power of mindfulness is its ability to transform your eating habits.

You can use mindfulness to increase your sensory enjoyment of food’s smell, taste, texture and umami (that elusive quality that provides pleasure when eating). And when you do, you will automatically upgrade your nutrition by exploring the flavors of more fruits, vegetables and whole grains while dumping the artificial, toxin-laden ingredients that are shoved into fast and processed foods.

Like mindful meditation and using deep breathing to help you focus and relax, mindful eating calls for a calm, focused, respectful relationship to food. This focus lets the food talk to you and tell you about its qualities and benefits to body and mind.

As Dr. Mike and Dr. Crupain say in their new book What to Eat When, eating has unfortunately become a vacuum-like process. The sensory experience that should accompany eating is generally lost on 99 percent of you, in 99 percent of your meals. We can help you change that.

A lot of mindless eating happens because of eating on the run. No time to savor anything. And that doesn’t just mean you miss out on the sensory pleasures of food, you also cause yourself health problems. One 2017 study found those who eat quickly (and quickly pretty much equals mindlessness, not mindfulness), were two to five times as likely to develop metabolic syndrome—a precursor to heart disease and diabetes—over a five year span than folks who eat more slowly. So how can you bring mindfulness to your daily intake of food?

Step back: Try not to eat at your desk or in your car. Sit at a quiet table, undistracted, except by good conversation, while you eat. Down with the digital, up with digestion!

Wait for it: Take slow, purposeful bites. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to tell your body that your hunger has subsided. If you chow down food too quickly, you’ll eat until you’re full, which really is . . . overeating.

Experience it: Try this experiment. Put a raisin on your tongue. Don’t chew it. Notice the texture, the flavor. Then start chewing it, slowly. Pay attention to your jaw, tongue, teeth and saliva. Apply that approach to each fork or spoonful that you take.

Now try this: Smell your food before you put it in your mouth. Compare the differences between what you smell and what you taste. Then look for the overlap, the similarity. Exercise your smell muscles whenever possible. Your enjoyment of subtle, natural flavors will increase.

Crank it up a notch: When trying to focus on food’s many qualities, it can be helpful to increase your use of spices. They provide a festival of flavor and change the experience of eating almost any food.

When traveling the spice route, engage your senses: Smell the food first, then enjoy the new tastes. You can’t do that smell test if you shop on the Internet, so take this spice adventure when you shop locally. Flavors like citrus, or herbs (parsley and cilantro) can transform a simple sandwich or a roast chicken. What to Eat When suggests you try rosemary, garlic, basil and some off-the-radar options like harissa (hot chili pepper paste), za’atar (a blend of hyssop, sumac, sesame and salt), Aleppo pepper, merken (a dried, smoked, red pepper that is sometimes ground with toasted coriander seed and salt), and shichimi togarashi (a Japanese spice containing chili pepper, sansho ("Japanese pepper"), roasted orange peel, black and white sesame seed, hemp seed, ground ginger, seaweed and poppy seed.

Now you’ve got the knack of where and how to eat, discover the when, why and what by sitting down—peacefully—with What to Eat When. It’s easy to digest!

Medically reviewed in October 2019.

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