Mindful Eating Challenge complete! Next steps...

We've completed our 14-day Mindful Eating Challenge!

You can check out the details on the Mindful Eating Challenge here to learn why we did this and what it means. Read the update halfway through here.

For the past two weeks, my wife and I have paid attention to where, when, and how we eat our food. No standing at the kitchen counter eating a snack, no hurrying through a meal while watching videos on the computer, and no eating breakfast in the car on the way to work. We'd gotten into a busy routine where finding time and a peaceful place to eat was hard, so we needed this reset to get out of bad habits and focus on our food!

The challenge was based on the premise that when we take the time to rest, sit still, and savor our food, not only do we enjoy it more and likely eat the right amount for our hunger signals, we also digest it better and may absorb more nutrients and receive more benefit.

A little nervous system background

Our digestive organs and processes are regulated by the autonomic nervous system, which functions involuntarily and reflexively. The autonomic nervous system also controls other peripheral nervous system functions like heart rate and blood pressure. While these processes happen automatically, we can affect things like heart rate by consciously breathing and resting; we can affect hormone regulation by how we eat, sleep, move, and supplement; and we can affect our digestive health by intentional physical and mental changes as well.

The autonomic nervous system is divided into three parts: the sympathetic nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system, and the enteric nervous system. Digestion is regulated by the parasympathetic nervous system--when our bodies are in a parasympathetic state. (Read more about this nervous system and how we can choose to eat in that state in the original Mindful Eating Challenge post here.)

Eating mindfully, always, is the goal

While the two-week challenge was a helpful tool for us, we hope to continue being mindful of our food whenever possible. So many benefits - improved digestion, decreasing stress in general, listening to hunger signals/regulating food intake, practicing gratitude for our food and whoever cooked it... great practice in general.

Dinner I made once during our Mindful Eating Challenge - eaten before heading out to a social event, but felt good to sit and eat together at the table (Source: My IG)

If you want to try eating more mindfully at home, try these four beginning steps:
  1. Prepare food ahead of time. We like to cook several things on Sunday evenings so we have some leftovers started for the week's lunches. Using the slow cooker during the week is also a great way to ensure you'll have food ready when you need it.
  2. Set some strict rules for where and when you eat. You can't always force yourself into a parasympathetic state consciously, but you can decide not to eat standing up or while multi-tasking for the next two weeks. After trying it for a few days, it won't feel forced anymore. This simple change of not eating while standing in the kitchen, writing emails, scrolling through Twitter on the phone, or driving to work will make a huge difference.
  3. Take a deep breath before each meal. This can be a shortened version of the Raisin Meditation; a prayer to yourself, your food, your cook, or a higher power; or a yogic breathing exercise--whatever works for you.
  4. Try a Raisin Meditation to practice new sensory experiences and become more comfortable with these elements of eating.
These tips were important for helping us feel comfortable focusing on our food during the challenge, and will continue to be helpful as we (hopefully) continue eating more mindfully. There's no reason we can't take a deep breath together before we eat dinner in the evening, or refuse to eat breakfast in the car as a general practice.

Wishing you the best in mindful eating and health!

You can check out the details on the Mindful Eating Challenge here to learn why we did this and what it means.  Read the update halfway through here.


Mindful Eating Challenge Progress and Update

One week into the 14-day Mindful Eating Challenge, and I have some reflections on the experience thus far!

You can check out the details on the Mindful Eating Challenge here to learn why we're doing this and what it means. Read the summary of the completed challenge here.

The official 14-day challenge was in large part my wife's idea, and I've been learning while doing. Some benefits I've experienced:

I've noticed that taking the time to sit and think about my food and the experience of eating it has really brought a level of relaxation to my whole day that I haven't had in quite a while. When I get stressed and busy it's easy to fall into patterns of eating on the go or losing sleep, but those types of responses to stress just perpetuate the stressful environment. It's becoming clear to me that "mindless" eating has a similar effect on my overall stress level to missing sleep or cramming for a test. I just don't feel as good, the food doesn't taste as good, and the natural cycle of my day gets thrown off. Forcing myself to sit down and stop whatever else I'm doing to eat a meal has been a big challenge, even though it sounds simple. However, after just a week of being mindful and attentive I can see the practical benefits of making the time I eat be a relaxing break from anything else that's going on. I've actually found that I look forward to eating more because I know that I'm going to take that time for myself.

Right BEFORE we ate breakfast on Sunday. We put away the laptop before eating, I swear.

Also, the food tastes better. It's immediately clear the first time I tried consciously eating mindfully, and it's lasted through the week. If I put a bite in your mouth and tune everything else out, even closing my eyes, the experience becomes so much more vibrant. We all know that when you focus on something the sense of it is heightened, and that our brains have the ability to tune out extraneous sensory information. Think about how your sense of touch feels the air, clothing, chairs, floor all the time. If we couldn't tune out that stuff we'd never get anything done. The same is true for food. When you watch TV, browse the internet, work, or even talk while eating you tune out a large portion of one of the most enjoyable human experiences: that of nourishing you body. Rather than tuning out of my primary goal of eating my meal in favor of multi-tasking, I'm really focusing on the food and appreciating the eating/digesting process.

We have struggled with a few things, too. As we expected when we started, breakfast is hard. Unless we have some left overs or prepare something special, it's hard to eat a real meal before leaving for the day. Also a challenge: getting enough food when we're very hungry after a hard workout, since grabbing a handful of nuts while walking around the house is not a mindful option. Again, we've just got to prepare enough food ahead of time or eat a bigger lunch that will hold us till dinner is ready. Hoping to keep improving these skills as we continue our challenge.

What benefits do you notice from taking the time to focus on your food? What tips and tools make it easier to eat in a rested, seated, calm state?

You can check out the details on the Mindful Eating Challenge here to learn why we're doing this and why it's important. Read the summary of the completed challenge here.
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