A surprising benefit of mindful eating

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It’s a crumpet kind of day today.

I’m doing a new thing when it comes to how I eat. And it’s bringing me an unexpected benefit.

I know you’ve gone through a journey with me about what I eat, looking for allergies and so forth. But this is not about what I eat, but about how.

It’s based on a set of guidelines in a book called Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth. I didn’t really get a whole lot out of the book, though it was interesting. But at the very end of the book she has a section called The Eating Guidelines which I am finding very helpful.

In these guidelines she suggests that we eat sitting down in a calm environment and without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, books, and even intense music.

It is very tempting when you have a lot of work to do, to eat your lunch ‘al desco’ – at your desk, while you are working. I have also found, while working at home, that it’s tempting to just watch a little TV for a break while I’m eating my lunch. Or to listen to a podcast, or to read a book for a break while eating. But doing any of these things means that I don’t really taste the food that I’m eating. I’m in another place in my head, and I don’t even know, once I’ve eaten, whether I’m full or not.

The other temptation that I have is to eat snacks while working in the afternoon to get myself through. Just a handful of nuts. Or a snack-sized bag of chips. Or a square of dark chocolate. (Or all three.) Just to make the afternoon’s work easier to handle. Again, this means that I don’t really notice what I’m eating and it probably means that I’m eating more than I should be.

I decided, a couple of weeks ago, in the interest of increasing my health and well-being, that I would try Roth’s guidelines.

I mean, feeding yourself is a basic right, right? And I know I’m trying to squeeze into each day more than each day can handle, but if I can’t take the time to eat, then something is out of whack. And if I have to bribe myself to work in the afternoon then maybe I should just stop and take a nap instead.

So I decided to change things a bit. I haven’t changed what we do as a family for the evening meal, but for my own breakfast, lunch, and whatever snacks I have, I am making a new pattern.

When I am eating, I am only eating.

Mindfully eating, if you like.

I sit at the table, I look out the window, I taste the food, I don’t rush, I just eat.

And the benefits have been amazing. Not to my body so much as to my brain.

Every time I go to eat I am strongly tempted to scroll through social media, or to listen to a podcast, or to write notes on something, or read a book. But I fight the temptation, prepare food that I look forward to eating, and I sit at the table.

And slowly my brain calms down. I feel more rested. I remember those things that I was going to do, but didn’t write down on my list. I think through the plot of the story I’m writing. I pray.

One time, looking out my window, I saw a flock of cockatoos chasing a hawk. I would have totally missed that if my eyes had been on my phone.

It’s like, you know when you get in the shower, or you finally lie down to sleep at night, and all the things you were trying to remember or think about come back to you. Well, I get that when I eat my lunch. And then, if I need to, I can do something about them in the afternoon.

I’m sure there will be benefits for my body as well. But I’ve just been stunned by how beneficial this has been for my mental wellbeing. The break, the calming down, the unwinding during the day, it has made my life calmer and quieter, and it hasn’t really affected my output at all.

So let me encourage you. You are worthy of a lunch break. Take the time to eat and enjoy your food. You might find some unexpected benefits.

Geneen Roth says to ‘Eat with enjoyment, gusto and pleasure.’ I hope that all of us can take the pleasure in food that it was created to give.

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