Mindful Eating Op-Ed Piece

 

Written by Milaad Hashmi, a peer educator on the Food Team!

I’m naturally a very skeptical person. Now when it comes to food (that thing that changes our brain and our health, that base ingredient that not only gives us energy but contains invaluable resources our genes need to function), that skepticism is ratcheted up tenfold. Take a sojourn around the Internet or, if you’re lucky enough, to your local book store, and you will find a cacophony of bloggers and pseudo-scientists promoting slow-carb, juice based, phytochemical-rich, and gluten-poor diets.

Now, some of these suggestions undoubtedly have some merit for some people, but the point is there remains a yawning chasm between pop-science and truth. The very fact that there are so many books written about the ‘perfect diet’ every year is evidence that no one really knows what they’re talking about; people aren’t writing books about the formation of rainbows because we understand it!

With these disclaimers in mind, I want you to try something: the next time you sit down for a meal, turn off your phone or any other potential distraction and just focus. Focus on the food, on its texture and flavor, on the sound it makes when it enters your mouth. I want you to concentrate on every morsel, every chew and every burst of flavor. Continue this practice for the duration of the meal without letting your mind wander, or without allowing those wanderings to capture your attention for too long. This is mindful eating.

It has its roots in Buddhism, and other contemplative traditions, and consists of merely paying attention to what you’re eating while you’re eating-every sensation, good and bad, without commentary. In today’s age, it can be quite the challenge to resist instagramming, pinning, or tweeting about any edible object that happens to come within arms reach. As a generation, we millennials, in particular, often deny ourselves the enjoyment of eating in order to ensure everyone else knows how much we’re enjoying ourselves.

As a cure to this broader cultural malaise, mindfulness meditation has proved rather effective. Studies in many a reputable physiological journal, from the Harvard School of Public Health to the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University have attested to its benefits. According to experts, meditation reduces stress and anxiety, improves creativity and focus, and can even foster more meaningful relationships. When applied to eating, mindfulness can improve digestion (which of course starts at the mouth), increase your enjoyment of food and, most importantly, make you eat less- that is, mindfulness will have you satisfied with less.

Most people have a reasonably good idea of what they should and should not be eating. If it’s processed, contains ingredients that sound more like characters in Star Wars, and is made in China, it’s probably best to avoid it. The problem then can only be that we neglect to make prudent dietary choices because we’re just not paying attention. Mindful eating, in other words, is not a diet, but a call to reorient the way we look at food. By eating more slowly and savoring each and every bite, we experience food more intensely, and the hope is that intensity of feeling will lead us to criticize what it is we put in our bodies in the first place.

Now if you’re the kind of person who isn’t swayed by rhetoric, than a good place to put this whole topic of mindful eating to the test is during Embark’s 3rd annual Food Education Days, which runs from March 15-17. The theme for this year’s event is "Food of the Future", which is a call for us all to think about what, why, and how we eat, and how those patterns should change in the future. Attendees will get a taste of the future of food with a planned market days, a Lunch N Learn session, and a film screening. Of particular relevance, the activities will provide a nice opportunity for us all to exercise our contemplative muscles, and fully experience the connection between body and mind. See you there!

For more information on Food Education Days 2016, please visit this link: http://www.embarksustainability.org/fed2016

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