Eating intuitively and mindfully, and practicing mindfulness and sharpening my intuition skills in my life has been a tool of immeasurable help in my journey of thriving with autoimmunity.
Mindful or intuitive eating seems like a modern approach, but actually it is ancient. Mindfulness itself is about 2500 years old, even though it has only recently started gaining popularity in the West. However, like anything that becomes very popular and very mainstream quickly, it can turn into something different, and often lacking in its original intent. True purpose of mindfulness meditation and applying mindfulness in life is to end suffering. Not to make you more productive or successful or any of that, it is a deep and spiritual practice with a whole religion and philosophy around it, and it is a practice that spills over into your entire life. Including how you eat, in fact, it is a great place to start a mindfulness practice, because it requires you to truly feel your body, be inside it and tune in, which is also the first step of any mindfulness meditation practice.
Mindfulness is principally kindness toward self, and genuine acceptance of whatever is coming up in that space we call self. When we first approach ourselves and meet ourselves where we are, without judgement, only then can we extend that same courtesy toward the world, and in this case to the food that we are eating.
First step to realize is that to feed yourself is kindness to yourself, we need nourishment. It is there to keep us healthy, give us energy to do what we love and just be, and exist in this world, without nourishment, we wither away.
FOOD IS FOOD
Don’t judge your food choices as “good” or “bad” or “clean” or “dirty” it is all just simply food! When you allow everything to just be the same, you will let yourself feel into what your body truly would like to experience through this food. What kind of nourishment does it really need? What is the real requirement? This takes some practice, and you won’t always make the exact choice your body would have made, but don’t let that discourage you. There is always another opportunity coming up again soon to practice this. Give yourself time to learn this skill. As you work toward your place of thriving, there will learning curves, and no diet is ever going to be always perfect, there has to be room for flexibility and allowance.
How do we do this? I’ve always had this thing where I felt like eating certain colours. It may sound funny, but I would crave something really bright red or green or yellow, and I would instinctively seek out something to eat in that colour. Well, it turns out that different colours in plants mean different nutrients, minerals, vitamins and compounds, all very nourishing to us. This gave me a little clue that my body is actually talking to me and telling me what it needs, cravings are good when you learn that it’s your body’s way of talking to you. When you truly tune in and learn the signals, it will never really crave a processed food. Although that may end up being your choice at first, the more you tune in the more you will choose whole nourishing foods, it becomes second nature and quickly. For you it may feel like a taste you are craving, sweet, salty, sour etc. Investigate that feeling further and see if you can pinpoint what would really nourish that craving, instead of grabbing the first thing that is easy and there.
Sitting with your craving and hunger is something you should do daily. When I say sitting with it, I mean really just stop, sit and listen to your body. Close your eyes if it helps, feel the hunger, ask yourself what is it you really want to eat, or maybe you are just thirsty? What does your body need? Or what is it you are truly hungry for? Is it food or something else? Don’t judge, whatever comes up is ok. Sit with it a while and then decide what you want to eat, once you do, just eat it, no debating how you should have chosen something else, or that it’s too much fat or calories or whatever. Remember, it’s just food, like any other, and remember you are on a journey to nourishment, the food you are eating is feeding your body nutrients and strength and helping it work better.
SAVOUR YOUR FOOD
A huge part of feeling satiated and full, satisfied and nourished is taking the time to enjoy and savour our food that is in front of us. Don’t just stuff it in your mouth in front of the tv, or while scrolling through your Instagram feed. Dedicate time to eating, slow down and enjoy. If you have a family, make a point of doing this together as often as possible. We as species have evolved around food and community and sharing, it is an enormous part of us and we need to nourish that part too, but eating alone doesn’t need to be a sad affair, it can feel just as satisfying. We need both community and family as much as time for ourselves, again no judgment, be in your space and hold that space as sacred and safe, whatever that space may be.
Once we actually get to the food itself, first look at it, the colours, the texture, and then smell it. Give that a few seconds to soak in with your eyes and sense of smell, do this intentionally. Once you start eating, take it all in, enjoy it foremost, pay attention to how it feels in your mouth all the complexity of the taste, or simplicity. What is the texture? Feel it going down into your body, knowing it will nourish and feed you for the next few hours. Chew slower than what you may be used to, really get to experience each bite. If you are eating with company, it may help to verbalize and comment on the taste and feeling of food, whether you like it, if maybe there is something missing, or it is just absolutely right.
Clue in to the feeling of hunger going away, and notice how it actually subsides quickly, after only a few bites. At this point you can completely tune into the feeling and enjoyment of food. Feel your stomach, pay attention to your body’s cues. Have you had enough? Are you still starving, do you need more? Stop for a bit in between bites, let it settle and see if you had enough. Remember also that cues to your brain from your stomach can take up to 20 minutes to signal that you are full, but I find taking that minute or two of a break usually gives me enough of an idea of where I stand. This may vary for every person, but the more you try to feel it, the easier it becomes.
If all this seems like too much work and a daunting task, I assure you it is not, and the little work it requires in the beginning is more than worth it in payoff. The more you do it, the less you will think about it. It will become something that happens naturally, this tuning in and checking in with your body. You will also notice that this will happen outside of eating, listening for clues about your body, and what it needs to thrive.