When things in my life are busy, nutrition is kind of an afterthought. I often don't have an awareness of what I'm eating, how it tastes, or whether it's even nourishing. All thoughts of mindful eating, or eating with attention and intention, go out the window.
This is why I decided to reach out to professional nutritionist Nikki Ostrower, founder of New York-based NAO Nutrition, which offers both individual and group wellness programs suited to your specific goals and needs. Over the phone, Ostrower told me that, "I define mindful eating as not only carefully choosing the foods that I'm going to be eating, but getting all of my senses involved. I take in what I see, smell it, savor each bite, and chew my food. It really helps me to slow down and enjoy what I'm eating."
Ostower also noted that, "mindful eating improves every area of our life. The way we feel emotionally and physically all starts with the health of our gut." She noted that healthy digestion not only affects things like metabolism, constipation, and bloating, but even has an impact on our moods, as "neurotransmitters are created in our gut, which means we can feel less anxious and depressed [when we eat mindfully]." Ostrower boiled it down to, "Happy belly, happy life!"
If you've been feeling like your energy levels are lagging, or like you can't even remember the last time you sat down and actually enjoyed a meal, here are five tips from Ostrower that can help recenter your relationship with eating.
1. Schedule Time To Eat
"Don't just plan what to eat, plan a time to eat," Ostrower said. "We're a society that eats on the fly. We don't give ourselves enough time to really plan our eating. So either we get too hungry and eat on the go, or we eat at our desks. We’re not planning for a time when we can really pay attention to what we’re eating." Try actually penning in 30 minutes for lunch every day, just as you would a meeting or an appointment.
2. Take Time To Look At Your Food
Ostrower also stressed the importance of actually looking at and smelling our food before we eat. "Digestion begins with our eyes," she said. "When we actually look at the food before we pick it up, our bodies are able to produce amylase, which is a digestive enzyme needed to digest carbohydrates. This is an important steps in enhancing our digestive system, and when we enhance our digestive system, our bodies can more effectively absorb and assimilate nutritionist."
3. Pay Attention To Your Body
When you actually sit down to eat, Ostrower recommended striving for "medium-sized portions and stopping when you're almost full." She said this will help prevent over or undereating, which can in turn cause a ton of stomach-related issues, like constipation, gas, and bloating.
4. Use A Cheat Sheet
This was my favorite of Ostrower's tips. She said that she provides all of her patients with a sheet of general eating principles that she recommends they review before each meal, or even just once a day if possible. The list includes things like remembering to chew your food as much as possible (as this helps with digestion), and taking a deep breath between each bite to prevent you from eating too fast. "Just by reading it once a day it sets the intention. We’re only human and we often need a reminder to slow down, especially because rushing and not eating mindfully is so ingrained in us." She even recommended shrinking a list down and taping it to a business card in your wallet so that it's super easily assessable.
5. Plan Ahead
Ostrower noted that so many of us often don't plan ahead when it comes to eating, which means we find ourselves overly hungry, grabbing for a convenient slice of pizza or running to the corner deli. "We’re a society that's riddled with gut issues; constipation, diarrhea, gas, and bloating, and a lot of time this digestive upset is because we’re not paying attention to our food." Try bringing your lunch to work every day, or if that's not feasible, make an effort to go grab it before you get hungry. That way you won't find yourself starving and reaching for the first thing you can find.
Mindful eating is a process, and definitely isn't something you'll master overnight. Just remember that in the end it's about helping you actually enjoy what you eat, and more importantly, feel your best. And who doesn't want that?
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