By Theresa Nygren
When food is introduced to infants around the age of six months, they intuitively know when they have had enough to eat. They naturally push the food away, and may even fling it to the floor as a clear statement that they are finished eating. As the infant develops and becomes a child more connected to the world, they often become disconnected from their true hunger and fullness.
Think of your own experience: How many times after dinner do you find yourself opening the refrigerator in search of options to snack on? Hunger isn’t driving this pursuit of food. Instead, it is food manufacturers and advertisers that know how to get us salivating and wanting more. We have moved far away from our “internal knowing” of when and what to eat. Many of us are probably unaware of the constant bombardment of external stimuli that prompt us to reach for another bite, lick, taste, or hunk of something.
There has been a frightening increase in obesity and weight-related diseases over the past 30 or more years. With one out of three children overweight in our country, it is time to wake up and become aware of our relationship to food and pay attention to what we feed ourselves and our loved ones. Yes, we live in a fast-paced culture. Forty to 50 years ago, there was not a convenience store at every street corner. Gas stations back then did not have the lure of prepackaged, unhealthy sugar-loaded snacks at the ready.
A huge shift needs to occur for all of us. We desperately need a return to simple, nourishing, life-sustaining food plans. Instead of grabbing the “diet magazine” of the month, it is time to step off the fast track and turn within. This is where mindful eating shines bright.
House lights up, please: Yes, there is another way of sustaining your body and mind, and it doesn’t mean following every new diet or quick fix out there. Let’s take the lead from our younger six-month-old selves and relearn how to push away the plate when we have had enough.
This may sound simple, but it is a process of untangling all of the misinformed beliefs about food and how we should look. For decades, advertisers have sought to influence what we should eat and how we should look, often to our detriment. What happened to honoring who we are with our individual body types and needs? So much money and effort is wasted in efforts to force ourselves to become something our genetics will never allow.
So, back to mindful eating. Imagine at your next meal, you quiet yourself and notice what you are truly hungry for. This takes some practice but is so worth it in the long run. The knowledge of what you need nutritionally rests inside of you.
Then imagine taking the time to prepare the food. Not making calls or watching TV or some other multitasking operation, but simply gathering the ingredients and preparing them step by step as you enjoy the tactile and sensory experience of creating a nourishing meal.
My recent zucchini soup endeavor is an example of putting mindfulness into play. I selected the right size zucchinis from a large stack gathered from our garden, taking a moment to appreciate all the efforts involved to bring these vegetables before me. After fully rinsing the remaining dirt from each of my selections, I lovingly sliced each zucchini into one-quarter inch slabs. It was a wonderful process of paying attention to each step: the easy way my knife sliced through each piece, the savory smell of the garlic and onion sizzling in the oil and butter, the process of adding the zucchini slices to the skillet, and the delight in seeing all the ingredients boil down into a dense, hearty soup.
After the cooking was complete, I marveled at the transformation that occurred as my hand-held blender thickened the soup into a creaminess that begged tasting. My taste buds were well prepped for the first amazing sip of this summer soup. Throughout the entire time, my focus continued to be in the moment. I slowly savored each spoonful and could more easily track my hunger and fullness.
You may have gotten the gist of this mindful eating strategy. The basic component is paying attention on purpose and getting in touch with the deeper place within that knows what we need nutritionally. We have the answers if we slow down and trust the wisdom inside rather than the conditioning of the world around us—and there’s no better time to cultivate this wholesome wisdom than now as we stand at the threshold of the holiday season.
Theresa Nygren, LCSW has been in the field of social work for over 30 years. She has counseled individuals and groups at an outpatient substance abuse facility, served as a social worker for the Town of Farmington, and has a private practice in both Avon and Farmington. She leads mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindful self-compassion groups, and has co-led Mindful Eating groups and workshops with Angela Mazur. Theresa and Angela will be co-leading “Mindful Eating: Free Yourself from the Diet Mentality,” at Copper Beech Institute, March 18, 2017 from 1–5 p.m. as well as the 8-week Mindful Self Compassion Course that begins January 17, 2017.