I started hosting Introduction to Intermittent Fasting retreats this year and one of the subjects we discuss in depth during the retreat is mindful eating. With Thanksgiving just around the corner – which means roast turkey with chestnut truffle stuffing, home-made cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes with Parmesan cheese, maple-glazed carrots with pecan nuts, green bean casserole with bacon, cast-iron skillet cornbread, caramelised sweet potatoes and a pumpkin pie with a walnut crust – I thought I would write a blog post about how to use mindful eating to avoid putting on weight at Thanksgiving/Christmas.
We do not celebrate Thanksgiving here in France. Our festive seasons starts with Saint Nicholas, on the sixth of December. St Nicolas is followed by the traditional Christmas Reveillon dinner on the 24th. Next is the New Year’s Eve Reveillon on the 31st: a feast that starts around ten o’clock on New Year’s Eve and continues to at least five o’clock the next morning. Our festive season ends with Epiphany, on the sixth of January, a full month after the start of the season on the sixth of December. At Epiphany, we eat large quantities of the Gateaux des Trois Rois, trying to find a minuscule but tooth-breaking figurine hidden somewhere inside the cake.
Most of us will eat a substantial amount of food and drink during the festive season, much more than we usually do. Many of us will also put on a regrettable amount of weight.
Mindful eating can help you avoid this unsavoury experience. So at the start of yet another holiday season characterised by decadently delicious and impossible-to-resist delicacies, you may want to take an in-depth look at the concept of mindful eating. Why? Because mindful eating will help you:
- fully appreciate and savour everything you eat,
- avoid eating and drinking so much that you end up feeling like an over-stuffed sausage,
- get to January with having put on a single pound.
What is mindful eating, aka mindfulness-based intuitive eating?
Mindful eating is not about dieting. It has absolutely nothing to do with the deprivation that characterises most diets. Mindful eating is about celebrating food. It is about rejoicing in the enjoyment that lovingly prepared food and expertly produced wine can give us. During the holiday season, mindful eating is also about sharing home-made and often home-grown favourites with our friends and family, our nearest and dearest. Mindful eating is something that we have been doing in France for many centuries.
Mindful eating is about paying attention to what you are eating. When you eat mindfully, you concentrate on and savour every sensation you experience while eating a melt-in-the-mouth bite or drinking a never-to-be-forgotten sip.
What are the benefits of mindful eating?
Mindful eating can help you to feel better about your body because mindful eating also involves non-judgemental awareness. It can help you lose weight, keep the weight off, manage pre-diabetes/diabetes and cope with chronic eating disorders.
How does one eat mindfully?
It is very simple. To ensure that not a single taste-sensation escapes you, you have to use all five your senses while you are eating and drinking.
Start by looking closely at what you are eating. Notice the various elements that your meal consist of. Try to guess what each bite is going to taste like, by looking at it. Does the turkey look over-cooked, under-cooked or roasted to perfection? Has it been glazed? Any visible indication of what it has been glazed with? What is the colour of the cranberry sauce? Light red, copper red, plum-red or dark red? How might the colour affect the taste? What does the mash look like? Light and airy or thick and creamy? How did the chef cut the carrots? Rounds or sticks? Pay attention to the shapes, colours and textures of the food in front of you.
Notice how you respond to the sight of all this scrumptious-looking food. Does your mouth start to water? Are you looking forward to your first bite? What do you love and what do you prefer to avoid?
Pay careful attention to the aromas that you can smell. Can you smell any garlic? Onions? Rosemary? Thyme? Does what you see and what you smell compliment each other? Can your nose help you guess what each bite is going to taste like? Any aromas that clash, or that you do not like?
What do you hear? People may be chatting excitedly around you. Festive music may be playing in the background. You may hear a champagne cork pop. If you bring your champagne glass to your ear, you may be able to hear the bubbles bursting.
Taste and Feel
Go on, take your first bite. Pay attention to the texture and the feel of the food in your mouth. Listen to the sound it makes when you chew. Is it crunchy? Smooth and creamy? Of what exactly does it taste? Can you identify the various flavourings? How salty is is? How sweet? Or is it tart, like the cranberry sauce? Too tart? Does it taste homemade? What does it remind you of? How does it compare with last year’s turkey? Chew slowly and savour each bite.
Pay attention to the sensation of swallowing. Are you swallowing too much at once? Do you swallow before you have finished chewing? Are you starting to feel full? If you are starting to feel full, put your knife and fork down. You do not need to feel obliged to drink or eat more than you want. You do not have to eat something that you do not like.
Be mindful of the thoughts that pop into your head. You may notice that you are eating more than you want because you do not to hurt your hostess’s feelings. You may notice that you are eating too fast and drinking too much. You may become aware that you feel intimidated about eating in front of other people. You may notice that you feel obliged to eat everything on your plate or to eat something that you do not want. Mindful eating means that you notice these thoughts, but you do not engage with them. You do not start beating yourself up because you are eating for the wrong reasons. You do not have a go at yourself for eating or drinking too much.
Not engaging emotionally with your thoughts enables you to look at them objectively and to choose how you are going to react. You can choose to make yourself miserable for the rest of the evening. Or you can choose to eat and drink more mindfully from that moment on.
You can choose to do one thing at a time. You can choose to stop eating or drinking while you are listening or taking part in the conversation. When you are eating, you are eating mindfully. When you are listening, you are listening attentively. When you are talking, you are giving the conversation your full attention. Find out what other people think of a dish, what flavourings they have noticed. French people do this a lot. It is great fun to try and guess the exact ingredients, seasonings and flavourings that the cook has used. If you particularly enjoy something, pay it forward and pass on your compliments to the cook.
When you are eating mindfully, you tend to eat and drink more slowly. You have time to pay attention to how your body is feeling. You notice when you are starting to feel full. When you eat mindfully, you often eat and drink substantially less than you would when you are eating mindlessly.
You may also notice that you are, in fact, not hungry at all, that you are eating because you are feeling stressed. You may realise that eating is not helping you feel less stressed. You may decide to use a different stress management strategy.
Eating mindfully enables you to appreciate what you are eating and drinking. You appreciate all the work that went into the production of the food. You realise how grateful you feel to everyone involved in providing you with this food: from the farmer who sowed the seed to the waiter who put the plate down before you
Eating mindfully means that you are eating and drinking slowly. It means that you will be eating and drinking substantially less than you would normally eat and drink during the same time period. Less food and drink means fewer calories. Paying attention to when you are starting to feel full will enable you to stop eating in time to avoid that overstuffed feeling.
If you would like to find out more about mindful eating, there are a few excellent books that you may want to read:
- Savour: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink
- Eating Mindfully by Susan Albers
- Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Jan Chozen Bays
- Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating by Jane Goodall, Gary McAvoy, Gail Hudson
- Meal by Meal: 365 Daily Meditations for Finding Balance Through Mindful Eating by Donald Altman
- The Self-Compassion Diet by Jean Fain
- Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
At its most essential, the apple you hold is a manifestation of the wonderful presence of life. It is interconnected with all that is. It contains the whole universe; it is an ambassador of the cosmos coming to nourish our existence. It feeds our body, and if we eat it mindfully, it also feeds our soul and recharges our spirit. Thich Nhat Hanh
Would you like to escape on a virtual visit to the sun-blessed south of France for 10 magical minutes where you can quickly recharge your batteries and come back bursting with supreme self-confidence?
Of course you do!
I will take you on a virtual visit to one of the most unspoilt parts of south-west France, where you can lose yourself for ten minutes in the gorgeous pictures of the meadows, mountains, lakes, orchards, vineyards, lost-in-time villages, decadently delicious food and outstanding wines of this region while you listen to some of the most beautiful French chansons ever written.
You will quickly feel much more relaxed and once you are in this state of mind, you can read your complementary copy of my 10 Simple Steps to Instant Self-Confidence guide and as well as my Coping with Change Cheatsheet and Checklist. This means you will be back at your desk 10 minutes later, much more relaxed, much more confident and able to handle whatever crisis demands your attention.
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