How Adding Mindful Eating To Your Intermittent Fasting Routine Can Exponentially Benefit Your Practice
IF Insider No. 64
In our last issue (IF Insider No. 63), we looked at the twin practices of gratitude and forgiveness, breaking down the benefits and extending an invitation to take this even deeper. Today, we will examine mindful eating, focusing on how adding this practice to your intermittent fasting routine can make your fasting practice even more effective.
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Mindful Eating And Intermittent Fasting - A Perfect Match!
Mindful eating can be defined as the art of being present while you eat. At first, this sounds a bit strange. Of course, you are present while you are eating because where else would you be?
But when you think more about this, likely, it’s only your body that is truly present while your mind is off somewhere else. Many people eat in front of the television while talking on the phone or sending texts to friends, or reading a book. “Grabbing a bite” has become a way of life in our always-on, 24/7 culture.
When is the last time that you had a meal uninterrupted by outside noise and chatter or some self-imposed activity…a meal where you appreciated and savored every single bite, the appearance, the aroma, the texture, and flavor of not only your food but how it made you feel? If you are like most people, it’s probably difficult to remember.
The concept of mindful eating has its roots in the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and whose popular books on mindfulness introduced everyday people to the concept. He defines mindfulness like this:
“…paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
Mindful eating incorporates this definition and is the purposeful paying attention to your food without judgment, movement by moment, and becoming aware of the sensual experience of your food as you consume it. Like intermittent fasting, mindful eating is not focusing on calories or counting macros or even on losing weight. However, people who regularly practice mindful eating frequently report losing weight. If you begin to eat mindfully, you will likely find that you will begin to savor your food more than ever, eat less, and naturally gravitate towards foods that are healthier.
When people first begin a practice of intermittent fasting, at the beginning, they too are likely to savor their food more, eat less and also tend to choose healthier foods. But from my own experience and those of colleagues and friends, once the intermittent fasting habit is fully ingrained, those aspects tend to fall away, and once again, you may find yourself eating hurriedly, choosing unhealthy foods far too often, and just not getting the enjoyment from your food that you did when you began your IF practice.
It makes sense that bringing mindful eating into your IF practice has the potential to revitalize your relationship with food. So how do you get started?
One of the best ways to immerse yourself in mindful eating and get a taste, so to speak, of what the experience is like, try Jon Kabat-Zinn’s infamous raisin exercise:
Get a single raisin and set it down in front of you. STOP. Resist the temptation to grab a handful of raisins and stuff them into your mouth.
Next, imagine you are completely new to the planet Earth, without experience with any foods this planet has to offer. Without experience, you are relieved of judgment, fear, or expectation, as everything is new. Breathe deeply for a few moments and relax.
Observe the raisin and then pick it up in your fingers.
Feel the weight of the raisin in your fingers.
Examine the raisin’s surface…really look for the first time at this strange object, its crannies, wrinkles, color, and shape.
Smell the raisin. What do you notice about how you react?
Now roll the raisin between your fingers. Hold it close to your ear and listen to hear what sound it makes when you do this. Notice any stickiness.
What you are feeling about this raisin? What are you noticing about your reaction?
Place the raisin between your lips and simply hold it there for a few seconds. What do you notice is happening inside you, your body, and your thoughts?
Let the raisin roll between your lips and into your mouth, but do not chew it yet, roll it around with your tongue. Do you notice any taste? Are you salivating? What do you notice that you want to do?
Alright, now bite down, just once. What do you notice as you do this?
Slowly begin to chew the raisin and notice what sensations and thoughts each bite brings.
Chew the raisin until it becomes completely liquid before you swallow it.
Now swallow and after swallowing, close your eyes for a few moments. Notice what you have experienced.
Obviously, you are not going to do this with all of your food, as you would starve before you could get enough calories! But doing this exercise sincerely at least once will open up a way of experiencing your food that you likely never knew existed.
Elements of mindful eating closely parallel those of meditation
Non-judgment - Despite our admonition to pretend you have just been set down on this planet, most of you will have had an experience already with raisins. You may like them or you may not. Becoming aware of one’s judgments is a critical component of mindfulness, and you are asked to set these judgments aside for his exercise unless of course, you are allergic to raisins. In that case, use a dried cranberry.
Patience - Letting the experience of eating the raisin unfold instead of controlling it and rushing it forward takes patience. This is in stark contrast to how many of us usually eat.
Beginner’s mind - Approaching eating this way allows you to have a new experience and to remain open to what unfolds in the here and now.
Trust - When you begin to cultivate awareness and acceptance of your own experience, trust in yourself arises and is strengthened.
Nonstriving - In meditation and mindful eating, we are not trying to “make” or force anything to happen. This is so opposite to modern diet culture, where food is seen as the enemy, and there is a tremendous effort to make weight loss happen.
Some suggestions for bringing mindful eating into your daily life:
The next time you find yourself reaching for a snack or something to eat, stop momentarily to notice what it is that you are feeling and thinking.
Are you truly hungry? Or are you bored, lonely, sad, or delaying working on a task you’ve been avoiding?
If you are not hungry, identify what you are feeling and act on that instead without reaching for food.
When you do choose to eat a meal or snack, do it intentionally and without distractions.
Bring a sense of gratefulness to your meals. Reflect on what it took to bring this food to your table…the farmers, the sun and soil, the truckers, and the grocery store workers who played a part in nourishing your body.
Between bites, remember to check with your body to see how you feel rather than just riding roughshod over it and continuing to eat. Have you had enough? Are you feeling full but not stuffed? If so, it’s time to stop.
Have you or do you practice mindful eating? If so, what has your experience been like? Please let us know in the comments!
Following this guide should give you an excellent foundation for eating every meal and snack mindfully.
Nelson JB. Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat. Diabetes Spectr. 2017;30(3):171-174. doi:10.2337/ds17-0015
Why It Matters
“Trust in your deepest strength of all: to be present, to be wakeful.”
~ Jon Kabat-Zinn is a scientist, author, and meditation teacher engaged in bringing mindfulness into the mainstream of medicine and society.
What We Are Reading 📚
We’ve put together some of the best resources on mindfulness that include videos as well as books:
This TEDx talk on mindfulness is by Rev. Takafumi Kawakami, Deputy Head Priest at Kyoto’s Shunkoin Temple
This TED talk is by Andy Puddicombe, a mindfulness expert who asks, “When is the last time you did absolutely nothing for ten whole minutes? Not texting, talking or even thinking?”
Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn. A classic.
Mindful Eating: A Guide To Rediscovering A Healthy And Joyful Relationship With Food by Jan Chozen Bays with a foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung
Did you like this article and learn something new? If so, please let us know in the comments! Questions and suggestions for future articles are welcome, too!
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