Intentional Eating

Pecan Scones

Have you ever stopped for a minute to think about how you eat your food? Are you one of those like my husband that back in the day could polish off a plate full of biscuits smothered in gravy, scrambled eggs, a cinnamon roll, a peanut butter and honey sandwich, and orange juice in a mere 5 minutes? (Apparently was a military thing…) Or do you sit in front of the TV with a bag of chips to only look down at the end of the show and realize that the entire bag is gone? Is eating a super emotional experience, or is it more of an action that you go through just to sustain yourself? Maybe on a regular basis you have an unyielding craving for ice cream and eat the entire pint in one sitting only to guilt yourself for the next 6 hours over it. I can honestly say that one of these has applied to me in one way or another.  

I was reading an article the other day about how the mindfulness of yoga could also help with our mindfulness concerning food, and it brought me back to a class I took in school about our personal relationship with food. In the class, we talked about how society as a whole misses the fact that eating isn’t just a physical action. There is a mental, emotional, and even spiritual side to eating. How you treat and associate the action of eating will in turn affect how food interacts with your body. 

Have you ever heard someone say that chocolate is “bad” or that celery is “good”? I used to categorize foods this way. Like the foods you weren’t supposed to eat or weren’t great choices were “bad”, and all the healthy, sometimes nasty choices were “good”. But really when you get down to it, there’s truly no “good” or “bad” food. Food exists. Food is neutral-we label them as “good” or “bad” because of certain affects they have on our bodies, but by doing this we label ourselves when we consume them. Have you ever heard someone say something like, “I ate that whole piece of cake! I was soo bad!!”? Or, “I was really good today and only ate my salad”? By labeling food as “bad” and trying to eliminate every part of it from our diet, we inherently crave it and can’t stop thinking about it until we cave and have even more of it than we would’ve had in the first place. It leads to tension and guilt, which can become more toxic in the body than the original food in question. It also leads to preconceived notions about foods, which prevents us from truly determining how the food interacts in our bodies. Are you stopping to think about how the food actually makes you feel? When you let yourself have something sweet, does it make you feel good? Does it give you a stomachache? Listen to your body-it will send you signals. This mentality of “good” and “bad” food also teeters on the dangerous cliff of viewing food as something that makes us fat rather than it being something exciting, and enjoyable, a gift that God gave us for sustainment and healing. 

It’s all too common that we use food as a tool, either to comfort or to punish, or to manipulate and control. We decide that we don’t deserve food or that the food will make us fat, so we stop eating. We don’t feel loved or feel extremely stressed, and we eat with all of our feelings. We feel like we have no control over any other thing going on around us, so we grasp at any kind of control we can find, which all too commonly is control over food. We use it try to attain this “perfect” diet. If we don’t allow ourselves to eat anything “bad”, then we’ll magically become that “perfect” person with the “perfect” life that everyone else is dying to become. Some even have themselves secretly convinced that if they maintain this perfection, they’ll just magically never get old and live forever, which of course is ridiculous. The problem with this mindset is that there’s no actual “perfect” diet. Every single person on the face of this planet is different. Each body reacts differently to different foods and has different dietary needs. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning processed foods by any means, and I do think that there are good and bad food choices out there, but restricting a specific food or even a whole macronutrient (i.e. carbs, fat, and protein) can be an extreme and even unhealthy approach to your diet.

Eating isn’t just an action we take to nourish our bodies. It’s an experience. Too often, we treat it as an inconvenience that we have to fit in between work, running errands, picking up the kids from school, and taking them to the various practices and lessons. I myself have been guilty of eating the protein bar in the car because I didn’t plan enough time to fix anything else. In this day and age, there just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day, especially not for something like eating. But the thing is, it really is that important. It’s important to take a second-whether you’re in the car or at the dinner table to let the surrounding chatter fade away and to slow down. Actually close your eyes and take a deep breath all the way in and all the way out. Focus on the food in front of you. What does it look like? Does it smell good? Are you excited to eat it? Take a bite and really tune in. Is it soft or chewy? What does it taste like? How does it make you feel? Do you feel happy? Satisfied? Calmer? 

What I’m ultimately getting at with this extremely long rant is to slow down. Consider looking at food from a different angle today. Instead of it holding a certain connotation or being a threat or an escape, look at it as a gift-a gift that should be respected and savored. When you eat, you’re in a safe space. This is something meant to nourish you physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. Acknowledge that. 

Take a deep breath, set an intention to explore the food in front of you with all of your senses. Be present with your food. Be greatful, and find joy.

4 thoughts on “Intentional Eating

  1. Molly says:

    Jess, this discussion was super helpful. I struggle with paying attention to my food as I eat. I am often doing something else while eating, or in a rush, or (and might sound strange) eating even while I am in the activity of cooking! If I make something for the week, say broccoli soup, I might have two bowls right then! So, obviously being mindful is a key, key step for me.

    I had the experience one time of having a “silent” dinner with a bunch of strangers. The food was great, the room dim, and the only thing to do was pay attention to eating, since we couldn’t talk to each other. It was a great experience: I smelled and tasted my food in new ways, appreciated colors and textures, SLOWED DOWN! So, I know the benefits. But for some reason, I just don’t seem to be able to do that now. Any ideas appreciated!

    • JThomas says:

      Molly, I definitely used to eat while I cooked. It was a hard habit to break at first because I was so used to it! The “silent” dinner sounds like such a neat experience. I had to go through a similar exercise for a class but did it by myself. I would start with baby steps. If you’re in a rush or doing something else, take a minute to take a deep breath and regroup. Even if you only have 60 seconds to stop what you’re doing before you go back to it, take advantage of every single second. I try to focus on how the food tastes or how it feels in my mouth to really appreciate how the food is nourishing my body. Once you find yourself being able to stop for a minute, maybe try two minutes. It’s difficult to expect yourself to stop for a full 30 minutes when your body is used to the “go, go, go” mentality. It won’t happen overnight, and if you can’t manage down some days, that’s ok! It does take some training and a lot of patience and grace. I hope this helps!

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