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Whole Gourmet Natural Cooking

Alison Anton's Natural Cooking Blog offers healthy recipes, inspirational food articles and culinary advice for the natural chef, and features dessert recipes from her upcoming cookbook, Desserts for Every Body.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Conscious Eating, Stress-Free Eating

You wouldn't stare out the window daydreaming while enjoying a nice lunch with a friend, would you? Your guest would think you rude and remote. What about when eating alone? Most of us hardly consider the food in front of us as a friend that requires attention, presence and good conversation. Without the understanding of food as a friendship, eating just seems to be another bad habit. With it, we realize that we never truly dine alone.

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Conscious eating, or being mindful of the food in front of us, is beneficial to the body, the mind and even the emotions. All three interrelate. Our actions affect the mind, and the mind affects our actions.

When we eat on the run, in the car, with anxiety or while processing heavy emotions, the body goes into "survival mode". From a very basic animalistic nature, the body assumes a protective, defensive posture. Stress and anxiety kick the fight or flight survival response in gear and the body goes into heightened alertness. The heart rate speeds up, the adrenals activate, and the mind runs rampant. The body's primary focus now is on survival, not digestion. Eating this way can cause all sorts of problems, from heartburn and gas, to bloating and irritable bowel syndrome.

In a hyper-vigilant state, the body needs a quick source of energy to deal with the stress it is experiencing, so it starts to burn carbohydrate, which is the fastest-burning fuel in the body. Since it thinks it's in a state of emergency, the body will store fat for later, rather than burn it now for fuel. Most people I know would much rather burn fat than carbohydrate -- burning fat means burning pounds.

Every trick we can pull from our sleeve to bring the body back into a state of peace and happiness while eating is valuable. When the mind and emotions are calmed, the body goes back into "thrival" rather than "survival". There is no threatening situation it has to deal with, and all it needs is a nice, slow, consistent burning of fat, rather than an immediate rush of carbohydrate. In turn, sugar cravings subside, and up-and-down moods swings go with it.

Tips for Stress-Free Eating

  • Sit with your food for 30 seconds before diving right in. Sense how your body is reacting to your hunger and the desire to eat. Gently notice your dependency on the food in front of you, then give in to your desire and eat with gratitude.
  • Pay attention to your thoughts. Do you think about work or try to solve problems while eating? Are you pondering a rough relationship or struggling with financial woes? These are a part of life, but while eating, put them aside.
  • The dinner table should be a calm and peaceful place to eat. If you have kids, make sure that there is enough food for everyone so that kids don't have to go into competition over food.
  • Don't talk politics at the table. Instead, talk about what's been going well for you and your guests.
  • If you start to wander off in a daydream while eating, take a breath and come back to the food.
  • If you are eating a "trigger food" like sweets, French fries, chips, or hamburgers, go extra slow and stop to take several calming breaths between bites.
  • Really enjoy the taste of the food you are eating. Notice the subtle flavors.
  • Chew each bite at least twenty times before taking the next bite. The first step in digestion starts in the mouth. Food needs enough saliva to help break it down so the stomach doesn't have to work too hard.
  • Don't eat on the run. Once in a while is fine, but for the most part, take a longer lunch break and take a longer time to eat; 20 minutes to eat a simple meal is good.

Now it's just a matter of enjoying the company. Whatever food you have chosen as your dinner guest, accept it, converse with it and by all means, enjoy it! Sit with it as you would sit with a good friend; treat it with respect, kindness and gratitude. Like all good, healthy relationships, friendship with food is a two-way street. Even if you can't see the value of the relationship right off the bat, give it time to develop and pretty soon you'll start to experience the benefits -- a lighter body, a healthier mind and a happier spirit.

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