Know Your Own Body, Be Mindful!

Healthy Eating Tip:

Know your own body, be mindful!

“I’m on the see-food diet. I see food and eat it.” Ever hear somebody say that? It’s not far from the way our bodies developed to consume food. Much of what drives us towards certain foods is subconscious. The desire for calorically dense foods is ingrained in us and is one of the things that has made us the most successful species that has ever lived on the planet. However, if you are going to be successful with lifestyle modification, you need to be not only conscious of what you eat, but you also need to be conscious of your body and how it functions. Another word for this is mindfulness.

I mentioned this briefly in last week’s healthy eating tip titled “Strike preemptively if you have to!“. Mindful or conscious eating is the process of slowing down and thinking about what you are eating and noticing what your body is doing with that food. There are many ways to develop mindfulness, and it all starts with recognizing that we, as modern Americans, tend not to be fully aware of much of what we do. We are not aware of what foods do in our body, and making connections between what we eat and physical reactions is not always something we are capable of.

In last week’s healthy eating tip, I recounted details of a 28-day reset with the plant-based whole foods diet. Remember that it took 17 days to reverse my body’s momentum from weight gain to weight loss. The weight loss didn’t start in earnest until that 17-day point. It took patience and control to reach that 17-day point and mindfulness to be able to notice it.

Mindfulness allows you to differentiate between what your body needs as fuel and what you want to eat. Mindfulness allows you to notice when hunger is emotional and when hunger is physical. Eating for energy in response to physical demands and not to satisfy desires or in response to emotional stress is what we need to do to regain and maintain health. Eating in response to desires created by marketing and emotional stress leads to the harmful outcomes we see around us every day.

One way to increase awareness and raise your level of consciousness is by breath control. Counselors often use breathing exercises to help people gain control over panic or anxiety and physical therapists to help people slow their heart rate. Breathing exercises can help you increase awareness of one important physical function with a wide range of implications. If you are eating in response to anxiety or stress, breathing exercises can help. If you are trying to resist eating to satisfy artificial desires or just because certain foods taste good, breathing exercises can help. If you are trying to increase physical awareness to notice things like your own metabolism, breathing exercises can help.

There are breathing exercises tips everywhere. The Harvard Medical School gives some fundamental breath focus tips that are a great place to start.

Breath focus helps you concentrate on slow, deep breathing and aids you in disengaging from distracting thoughts and sensations. It’s especially helpful if you tend to hold in your stomach.

First steps. Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. First, take a normal breath. Then try a deep breath. Breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out slowly through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural).

Breath focus in practice. Once you’ve taken the steps above, you can move on to the regular practice of controlled breathing. As you sit comfortably with your eyes closed, blend deep breathing with helpful imagery and perhaps a focus word or phrase that helps you relax.

Stopping to relax and control a physical function like breathing is a way to develop mindfulness, which you will need to succeed with lifestyle modification.

Here is the reference for today’s Healthy Eating Tip:

Harvard Medical School. Harvard Health Publishing. (Accessed 10/15/2020.)