Mindful eating: how to eat more consciously

Lose weight or gain weight: everyone is different. But the important thing is learning how to feel good.

We have been raised by the hunger for centuries. For generations, those of our grandparents and ancestors before us, being hungry was such a daily primary and obvious need: hunger for everything, for food, for opportunities, for hot water and heat, to the point of not feeling it anymore. Today everything has changed, and the grandparents of now, adolescents of the fifties and sixties, are already part of another story. We have full supermarket shelves, overflowing (even with too much). In the world we live in, the countries of this new century, food has never been so available and cheap. Resisting temptation has become the big business. So, amidst the tragic increase in childhood obesity and appetite disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, we enter the new century with little awareness of how hungry we are inside.

When we eat poorly, we lose sight of the authentic sense of eating, and in the meantime, we cover our mouths with food, not to mention emotions. The hunger that remains: we carry it with us, inside. So, in this age in which we face life with a full stomach, perhaps for the first time in history, the time has come to reset our relationship with food. We can begin to make peace with this ancestral hunger. To do this, we point the finger where we are and begin to master the vision we have had so far: we learn to celebrate the fullness of existence. Yes, savoring and rediscovering the sense of fullness will help us defeat the atavistic hunger written in the DNA of millennia of history. Then, perhaps, we will be able to rewrite the information stored in our genes and give a new inheritance to our children and grandchildren.

What does “mindful” mean?

mind your head signage
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A mindful attitude is a conscious attitude. For years now, mindfulness, which took inspiration from Buddhist meditative practices, has been applied to the field of psychology and stress reduction techniques, becoming a real trend. In reality, we can transfer it to any field of our existence because it has to do with the attitude with which we face life, our internal disposition. 

“Mindful” means paying attention to what we are doing and therefore being fully immersed in the here and now, knowing how to live the present moment. 

Becoming an observer of oneself is the great adventure of meditation, but it is something we can train ourselves in every moment of the day. It is a constant exercise that stimulates us to “observe” life as it happens and observe ourselves as we live it. To do this, a step back is necessary. It is this small action that gives a fundamental component of awareness: the right distance.

How do you deal with life?

We learn to look at and face problems differently through different perspectives because the vision we have of ourselves and of events is transformed when we change perspective and look at things “from a distance.” Much of our problems, in fact, come from the fact that we cannot get out of it because “we are in the middle.” We feel too involved, and we drown inside. 

Have you ever noticed? It also happens with food. When you feed yourself unconsciously, you gulp down stuff without even remembering what exactly you just brought to your mouth. Or you starve yourself with grueling judgments dictated by the mind and by things you have read.

photograph of a woman in a red top eating nachos
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When we do this, we impose on the body what we believe is right, and in the meantime, involuntarily, we let all flavor slip away: we lose the taste of life. Quite the opposite of an attitude based on awareness which, on the other hand, teases us to go deep within ourselves, to have the courage to FEEL our desires, especially those that cannot be confessed. And risk living a courageously authentic existence.

The word “awareness” comes from the Latin verb “to know,” which refers us to feel. Knowing is “having flavor,” and then, thanks to exploring our senses, knowledge can become wisdom, which we carry with us under our arms, in our hearts, on our fingertips, and on our tongues every day.

Habit: the first obstacle to change

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Is change really possible? Yes, it is. We can change a life, work, style, and diet. Be careful, though. As with any change, an effort will be required at the beginning. Not only that, to really change, it is necessary to dive deep inside ourselves and identify the keystone, or the piece on which the construction that we have taken for granted for years is based. Inside is the thread that binds us to habit. We tend to take the values and beliefs on which our existence is based for granted. Also, doing what we have always done is easier, leading us to avoid questioning ourselves. Thanks to the power of habit, you can go with your eyes closed, on autopilot, admit it. It takes time, desire and patience to learn an unknown thing. But in return, what we can draw from it is the wonderful discovery that lies between the caterpillar and the butterfly. After the fatigue of waiting, the transformation will illuminate a new phase of existence.

Before eating

The first step is to take a break and sit in silence with a blank piece of paper next to you. Even if it’s only for five minutes, take a moment of conscious attention to your shopping list and meal menu. Stopping will help you become aware of your needs, think about a qualitatively better shopping, and make better food choices.

variety of vegetables on display
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Where will you be for lunch this week? What season are we in today? And where do you live? Creating more thoughtful menus does not only have to do with seasonal vegetables and zero-km products but with your needs. 

Be patient with yourself, be kind, and learn to smile at yourself – don’t wear yourself out trying to be a superhero! 

There will be a day when you are in a hurry and a day when you just want to devour the first thing you find in the fridge. That’s okay. Say it more often: that’s okay. The great enemy we have to take away power is the anxiety of perfection, that terrible energy that devastates us because either we do everything right or it is worthless. It is not so.

Half is better than nothing. Start telling yourself this. Instead of despising, learn to like, and you will begin to appreciate your effort by adding positive value to what you do (for the happiness of your self-esteem!). We need to learn to cross the authentic needs of the body, that is, to listen to and decode hunger and to negotiate with what is our lifestyle and the environment.

Honesty is the key to change

brown wooden blocks on white table
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There are things we don’t want to see, but what we don’t admit is the rock that separates us from the life we would like. If you love buying fresh vegetables, but you end up abandoning them to mold in the fridge, there is something to change in the routine. For example, you could cook and freeze in portions. The habit of freezing sauces and vegetables to be combined with freshly cooked cereals or proteins is an excellent idea to make the most of money and time. Another example? You love sweets. There is no denying it. Instead of starving yourself, with the risk of binge eating that backfires like a boomerang regularly, you could learn new recipes, tasty preparations with often-overlooked ingredients, such as dried fruit, or treat yourself to a dessert as a moment of a thoughtful celebration.

We would like to have time to prepare healthy, well-thought-out, plant-rich meals. But the legume soup to soak eight hours earlier has been dying in the pantry for months. Not all of us are cooks by vocation, and often the time we have is very little. Instead of punishing yourself for this, learn to choose. The peasant recipes of the past tell us that even a simple bread, to be eaten with fresh tomatoes, salt, and a drizzle of oil, can be a king’s meal, especially if the ingredients are good and if we stop to enjoy it. By the way, at the center of the table, keep a plate with lots of seasonal fruits and a pitcher of water. You will remember to take a break with what is good for you.

Create a new menu

Learning new habits requires patience, curiosity, and love. Look around, put the seasonal vegetables on fire, and read a new recipe. When you choose to experiment, do it with all the senses: a preparation is not to be chosen only for the healthy side, but because it is capable of teasing the senses, or, for example, because you want to offer this dish to those you love. All the reasons that are among the things that can make us happy are great reasons to try a new dish. What puts us in a good mood raises the quality of our life.

person holding sliced vegetable
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Have you ever thought that writing a menu could help you rethink the dishes that make your kitchen? We are fond of grandma’s meatballs because she was the one who prepared them, but if you want to make a change in life, you need to start again from you, from your real needs. You can write your experiments and, while you wait, between cuts and cooking, even stop and draw them. Do you know that coloring is an anti-stress activity not only for children but also for adults? Both cooking and drawing have to do with time and teach us to stop, breathe and live in the moment.

Listening to the body is a workout

You didn’t even notice the time, but now that you look at your watch, you realize that dinner time is long past. How hungry! This situation happened to you too, right? Leaving the clock aside, at least on free days, brings us closer to our internal time and helps us discover another rhythm. Maybe you too, as a child, were educated to the mantra “finish everything on your plate,” not to mention that the body’s voice is often disguised by advertising and the desire “of the mind.” When the truth of the senses happens, it becomes an ever-smaller voice, and we end up eating everything, only to indulge our partner, friends, a need of the heart, or the desires of the eyes.

Anyone who has the opportunity to observe a child early in life can gain an incredible accuracy about the truth of sensations. When they are no longer hungry, the very little ones simply stop eating. It is clear that this does not mean that we should fall into waste and throw everything that remains on the plate. So? For example, we can begin to take less: fill less the plate, the mouth. You will realize that hunger for the eyes also comes into play here, which is sometimes also hunger for instant gratification, pampering, and pleasure.

top view photo of cooked foods
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A mindful, conscious approach applied to food means changing the model and starting to work on oneself: a research that will take us into history, ours, and even further back, the one-handed down to us by the system in which we lived, school, and family. We will have to go through our fears and conflictual knots that we have never told each other, but it is a necessary journey if we and the children of tomorrow want to grow up, learning once and for all to create a possible peace between hunger and pleasure, starting to really “feel” the body.

The importance of pleasure

Look for an answer that reconciles family and work without sacrificing nutritional value and pleasure! Yes, don’t make the mistake of underestimating the pleasure factor because it will treacherously pop up when you least expect it. Deeply, it is also the reason behind the failure of so many diets: we cannot starve ourselves too much, we cannot regulate the body’s needs with the ideas we have in mind. Remember that the emotional factor occupies a significant percentage in every choice of our life, from the table to job changes. We just don’t realize it. We censor our real desires and then silence them with a surrogate, but sooner or later, the deception will surface because the pleasure will give way to a bittersweet taste that is increasingly difficult to conceal.

shallow focus of ice cream on cone photo
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Knowing how to give our body and ourselves a credit of trust is sometimes the most difficult of lessons, it takes years to learn, and until the end, it will be a gamble. Do you fancy an ice cream today? Grant it, indeed, do more. Celebrate it. Turn it into your lunch break. Choose it how you like it, and enjoy it to the fullest. There is nothing like guilt that can bring us down. Your body won’t crave ice cream indefinitely as it will likely surprise you, with a demand for water and lightness when your mind least expects it.

How do I really feel?

We eat too much compared to our needs, and to tell the truth, in many cases, we have no idea how much it would be enough to eat! Think of the simplicity of a dish like Tuscan Panzanella: stale bread, fresh tomato, onion, salt, oil. The poor recipes of the past had everything you needed. In Asia, the meal they sell everywhere on the street is still a meal made like this, a hot broth rich in spices to which a handful of spaghetti (carbohydrates), a few pieces of fish or meat (proteins), and vegetables are added on the spot. Fasting or eating very little in the evening is something that people were once accustomed to, just as they were tempered by cold and hunger.

Today, on the contrary, we live in an era of “too full”: this rest of the body could be a precious gift. But our mind still does not accept this information and tends to experience consuming less as an alert rather than a need to feel good. Begin to observe your “full” and your “empty.”

When you sit down at the table

We are (still!) victims of the appetizer, first, second, sweet model. No! Not only is it unnecessary, but this is also the model of a day of celebration, the problem is that we have extended the party to every day of the week. Choose one (or more, if you have them available!) vegetables; they will be the star of your dish. Add a portion of carbohydrates and a smaller portion of protein. Everyone needs different amounts, depending on the life we lead.

fish salad dish
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According to the ancient science of Ayurveda, the right amount is what the palms of your hands can hold, which, when closed together, form a bowl. Watch your hands. Watch them as you cut, cook, and season. Breath deeply. Put love in it whenever you can. In China, it is said that we should not eat when we are too tired, angry, or sad.

The kitchen is a bridge between us and others and from ourselves to our bodies.

The other in you: enemy or guest?

Would you ever give your guest something that is not what is most beautiful for you? Would you say “no, don’t eat,” or would you starve him or offend him by offering him something poorly done or “spoiled”? Yet we do it often with ourselves. We give ourselves the worst leftovers, we get heavy with guilt, or we starve with discipline. On the other hand, we rarely take a moment to prepare the best in the pantry and enjoy the meal with joy. In Italian, the word “guest” has a double meaning: it indicates both those who offer and those who receive hospitality. It seems that the original meaning of guest is “stranger, pilgrim.” What if we try to receive ourselves like travelers who have happened upon our way by chance? Perhaps it would be an opportunity to get to know each other in a new way and learn to be in the company of ourselves, to find the other in us, rather than looking for others to fill up places at the table and in the stomach.

Eat consciously!

Popsicle Society
Popsicle Society

I love traveling, cooking and enjoying this beatiful world.Β 
I’m a life lover! Simple as that!

27 thoughts

  1. This is such an important post Ribana, that I want to say something about my lifetime relationship with food, which, in truth, has never really been problematic, although some adaptations to early learning have been necessary. Born in 1942, I was the eldest of five children in a low income family. These were the days before central heating and refrigeration. Payment of the rent was top priority – then came food. So it was important to fill us up with stodgy food – much bread and butter, lots of steamed puddings. No sweets – in the early days these were rationed and later couldn’t be afforded. When we did have party food, I finished the sandwiches rather than have them go to waste, and didn’t have room for cake – which the younger ones had finished anyway. Once a week we enjoyed a good fry up.

    As I have gone through life I have gradually dropped the habit of filling up with bread and butter, puddings, etc – but it didn’t come naturally. The hardest meal to leave off was a good fried breakfast. On the other hand I have never been one for cakes and sweets and very seldom visit a dentist.

    No longer being fixed on three meals a day I let my stomach tell me when, and how much, to eat.

    This is not an effort of will – as I am less active I need less. I guess I am very lucky.

    1. Thank you very much Derrick for sharing! Very appreciated! Yes, indeed, our lifestyle changes during the years and with it also our eating habits! As we evolve, it is very important to be considerate and learn to be conscious about what our body needs to feel good!

  2. Yeah πŸ‘πŸ» dear! Will follow up the basic ideas that you have written. We learn so many things in the world and will do so. TQ for sharing lovely post.

  3. Great tips Ribanna. Eating consciously to feed our body and spirit is very important. It’s amazing how much better I feel when I slow down to mindfully prepare, cook, and eat my foods.

  4. What a great reminder to all. It can be so easy to just rush through the day and our meals. While I don’t necessarily pray before each meal, I do say thank you to the earth and sun for allowing this food to even exist and nourish me! This moment of grace allows me to fully eat and enjoy every bite and become more aware of what I’m eating.

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