It was not until I found myself recovering from adrenal fatigue that I started to realize how important food is in supporting optimal health and well-being. Before that, if you had asked me, I would have told you I was a healthy eater (and I was…mostly). I ate sustainably as much as I could, I steered clear of processed foods and tried my best to choose foods that were nutritious. Yet there I was, sitting in a naturopath’s office and listening to the results from a myriad of tests that all seemed to confirm that my body was depleted, that I was not adequately absorbing the nutrients in my food.
“You need to not only focus on what you put into your body,” she said to me, “but you need to pay attention to how you put food into your body.”
Her statement startled me at first. I wondered how paying attention to how I put food into my body would have any impact on my health. But at the time I was desperate to heal, so I left the naturopath’s office that day, armed with not only a series of recipes and supplements, but also with strict instructions to stop using measuring cups (so I could slow down and really experience all the textures of the food with my hands), and to choose one meal a day to eat mindfully (without distraction and with full attention). In the coming weeks, I diligently followed my naturopath’s instructions and I was amazed to discover how mindless I had been in both my cooking and eating habits. The truth was that I would regularly whip up meals as quickly as possible, then gobble them down while working, driving, reading emails or even watching TV. It was as if the act of cooking and eating had become an inconvenient necessity; a chore that shouldn’t take time away from more “important” things.
What I didn’t realize at the time was the damage I was doing with my distracted approach to eating. Our gut, after all, is a highly intelligent part of our body. Often called the second brain, the stomach is lined with around 100 million neurons that are part of the neural network known as our enteric or intrinsic nervous system. Its connection to our other brain (the one in our head!) is complex and highly interrelated. In fact, these two brains are so connected they often act as one. Our second brain not only controls our digestion, but it has been proven to play an integral role in our physical and mental well-being. When things are off in our gut, our overall sense of wellness is impacted.
An integral approach to mindful eating
Today, as much as possible, I follow a more holistic or integral approach to mindful eating. Inspired by my work as an integral coach and Ken Wilber and Terry Patten’s book Integral Life Practice, I incorporate the following four approaches into how I acquire, prepare and eat my food:
1. Eat mindfully
This is by far the most challenging for me! Eating mindfully means being present and aware at all stages of food preparation. From purchasing to preparing to eating, the more mindful and aware we can be, the greater the benefit to our health and sense of well-being.
2. Eat optimal foods
Eating foods that make us feel good and feed our energy (rather than drain it) is an important part of eating mindfully. Cutting down on processed foods and refined sugars is a good place to start. Try paying attention to how your body feels after you eat. Which foods make you feel good? Which foods make you feel bloated, tired or uncomfortable?
3. Eat meaningfully
I remember every night when I was a kid we would say grace before eating. That ritual has fallen away in my adult life, but it is returning. When we take a moment before eating our food to give thanks to all those who contributed to our meal (the farmers, the shopkeepers, the cook!), we feel more connected to those we are sharing our meal with, and to the greater human community.
4. Eat sustainably
Recognizing the interconnected nature of our planet and understanding the impact our choices have on the greater world is an important aspect of mindful eating. In our society, it can be challenging to make sustainable choices, but it is not impossible. Learning about where your food comes from and how it was produced is a good place to start.
Today, mindful eating is something that has become a touchpoint in my life. When I slow down and pay attention, not only to what foods I eat, but also to how I eat those foods, I feel awake and nourished. In those moments, almost like magic, food becomes a conduit for joy and connection rather than a necessary chore in the toil of life.