A meditative practice for healing digestion, deepening awareness, & overcoming food fear
There was a time when humans had reverence for the food they caught, hunted, grew, and ate.
Once upon a time we understood that nourishment was everything and without it we could not live, let alone thrive.
Nowadays, most people just grab what's fast and easy and throw it down the hatch, with little understanding or appreciation for how that impacts their health.
Part of the health crisis we face is directly related to our disconnection to food. Mindfulness is the bridge to those disconnected waters.
Because food is such a huge part of our lives (eating 3+ meals a day, every day) bringing mindfulness to this daily experience is a really powerful opportunity to deepen your awareness & practice a regular "meditation."
I think it's safe to say that most of us take or have taken food for granted at some point. As a culture in the west we tend to forget how much effort and time goes into the production of our food. The farmers that put their every ounce of energy into the growing of that food. The animals who lost their life to nourish your body. The truck drivers and pilots who deliver the food to your hometown. The store owners and workers who stock and price the food that you buy every week. The chef, parent, or partner who cooked the meal that you now get to enjoy. Take that all in, isn't that incredible?
We've been consumed with convenience and this convenience has destroyed our experience of eating. We have lost connection with our nourishment and the amazing journey it takes to get to our plates.
Food is life. Never forget that. If tomorrow you woke up and couldn't eat for some reason, you would learn to appreciate food & what it truly represents - life. And what could be of more significance than life?
Without the food on your table you wouldn't live very long. You wouldn't be able to provide for your family. You wouldn't be able to go to the gym. You wouldn't be able to take vacation or enjoy social events. Every bite of food you take is distributed throughout the body into your cells, tissues, organs, & blood. Your food is YOU. Honoring it is a reflection of honoring yourself.
When my digestive disorder was at the height of imbalance, I was only able to eat a handful of items without discomfort. Mostly stewed veggies and beef. Often times even that would upset my belly. I remember thinking,
"all I want to do is eat without pain, why is that so impossible?"
Eating without pain - something we've all taken for granted, including myself. I never had a greater appreciation for food, then when I wasn't able to digest it.
On the other hand, many women view food as the enemy - something to be feared. They have lost their admiration and appreciation for what food really is; a life giving energy. This fear of food creates a disorder in the body & damages digestion. Because of my own chronic stomach pain, I had to overcome my fear of what food might do to my belly on any given day. I did this through mindful eating practices, with the intention to reestablish a healthy connection to food.
When we take time to be mindful we actually activate important bodily processes to begin supporting us.
It is of vital importance that we get to a place of reverence and gratitude for the energy that fuels our life force and makes all things possible. Our bodies were designed with intention, & living in alignment with that intention creates ease & flow.
By following the 6 steps below, you will successfully create a self-love ritual that benefits your health.
Printing these out and hanging them in your kitchen is a good reminder to show up for every meal with mindfulness.
1. Create a comfortable space
The environment in which you eat can do a lot to support or impair your digestion. It's important to be in a space that allows for mindfulness and care when eating. When you eat with care, you activate the "rest & digest" system. When you eat while running from appointment to appointment you are still in "fight or flight" mode and will struggle to digest and absorb nutrients. When you don't absorb said nutrients, you'll continue to feel fatigued, tired, irritable and anxious. The cycle of chronic symptoms continues. Mindful eating begins when you create a space to be comfortable and present with your food. If you were about to enjoy your last meal on Earth, you wouldn't be doing it in the car while talking on the phone, would you? Treat every meal like it's worthy of that kind of attention...because it is.
2. Pause before your plate
Like all mindfulness, pausing is always a crucial step. Before you inhale your food, take a moment to pause in front of your plate and let your senses take in the nourishment before it hits your lips. Use your eyes and nose to activate the salivary glands in your mouth which release enzymes crucial for optimal digestion. Before we even take our first bite, our mouths begin to produce digestive enzymes at the the mere sight and smell of food. Pausing activates your awareness & enhances your digestion.
3. Express gratitude
After pausing and activating your senses, take a moment to express gratitude to all of the people (or animals) involved in getting this food to your plate. Honor the animal that died in order to nourish your body. Thank the farmers who slaved away to bring you quality nourishment. And truly receive the miracle that you are eating what may have come from another continent or ocean. Remind yourself that hundreds of thousands of people go hungry every year, and your plate is full. Be humbled that you have access to clean water & food and send a prayer to those who do not. Let this serve as a reminder that food is sacred.
4. Infuse the food with healing energy
This is a particularly important piece for those suffering from chronic illness, who often lose hope in their healing. Hold your hands over your food, close your eyes and visualize strength, vitality, radiance, peace, love, and healing that will move from the food into your body. Visualize your food as medicine, healing and strengthening every cell. While, this might sound a bit "woo woo," this simple intention creates an energy, relationship & bridge between you and your food - the bridge that your body & life have been missing. You cannot heal if you resent your body or your food.
5. Chew. Count. Repeat (slowly)
What's chewing you say? It's when your teeth masticate the food so the rest of your body has an easier experience digesting the fuel that will become YOU. Simple, but often overlooked and underestimated. Mindful eating means slowing down every part of your "normal" process into thoughtful, intentional steps. Swallowing huge bites creates more work for your gut. Digestion requires so much energy from the body that creating more work for it can result in symptoms like fatigue and exhaustion. Part of the reason we don't chew is because we are stressed and have the "lets just get it over with" mentality. This type of mindset is another block to healthy digestion and deeper awareness. Chew your food. Chew it slowly & intentionally. Different schools of thought believe in a different number of "chews" per bite. My personal belief is if you can aim for 20 chews per bite, you'll end up in a pretty good place. You shouldn't be able to identify what is in your mouth before sending it downward.
6. Stop eating at 80% fullness
I know know, why leave 20%? According to the "blue zone" study, which analyzes the diet and lifestyle of the longest living people on earth, stopping BEFORE you're full can actually increase health AND longevity. How many times have you eaten yourself way passed 100%? How many times have you given yourself a bellyache by exceeding your own limit? How many times have you felt guilty and shamed yourself for doing so? Probably more times than you can count, right? This type of eating falls into the non-mindful, "auto-pilot eating" method- which basically means you've lost touch with the present moment by inhaling or eating while distracted. When we inhale our food quickly, (with less chewing) our bodies don't get the signal that we are full until long after it's "too late." Mindfully eating at a slower more intentional pace allows you to stop at 80% fullness. This gives your body extra space to rest and digest the way it was intended to, which in turn leaves you feeling lighter & more nourished. It's pretty hard to feel nourished when your pants are busting open & your shaming yourself with "you little fatty." Try stopping at 80% for the next 7 days - reflect on how you feel afterward and make a conscious effort to keep this in practice. The amazing thing is, once this becomes habit, you rarely fall back into the "gorge and shame" cycle.
If you struggle with meditation, then start with food. When you can bring mindfulness to your eating, you will begin to understand the energy and benefits of meditation.
Once you've mastered and integrated mindful eating, you will find a sense of ease & comfort in your seated meditation. It's quite simple when you think about it. Yoga & seated meditation are not the only places that mindfulness live. The opportunity to be mindful is in everything, all you need to do is show up with attention & intention.