Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mindful Eating

How often do we actually stop for a moment and give thanks for the food we are about to consume (or inhale)?  How often do we give food its due respect?  We live in a fast-paced, high-stress world where many meals are ingested while speed walking from point A to point B or in front of the computer as we are say looking up a patient’s lab values to make sure the hemoglobin is stable.  Chewing is often a luxury.  It would be impractical to liken eating to meditation (which in an ideal world it would be) when we don’t even have time for many meals in the first place.  Often after a meal (which felt like an eating contest) we find ourselves face to face with an empty tray or dish filled with crumb remnants wondering why we feel so full yet unsatisfied. 

And sadly, when it comes time for our society to focus on any issue with respect to eating, we find our culture obsessed with the opposite extreme: losing weight and crash dieting.  “How can I get skinny fast?”  “Is there a liquid diet that works?”  “A magic pill perhaps?”  What ever happened to striking a balance?  Not hoarding and scarfing down our food, but also not treating it like the enemy and the root of all evil.  The food didn’t cause us to gain weight, our attitude towards food and the unhealthy decisions we made did.  We need to shift our obsession away from fad diets and magic weight loss medications and redirect our focus to achieving nutritional health and overall wellness.  Have we forgotten that by making healthier decisions with respect to diet and exercise that not only will we stay healthier in the long run by actively fighting preventable disease, but we will also shed unnecessary pounds?  And what about thankfulness and honor for nature’s bounty?  We are all inter-connected: the earth, humans, animals and plants.  Each choice we make has a direct impact on the other.       

Just as we pay close attention to everything from the friends we select to the clothes we wear, we must also be mindful of the ingredients we choose.   We must respect the foods we consume the way we respect the people in our lives and the material items we invest in.  By doing otherwise, we are not only disrespecting the earth’s gifts, but by extension our own selves because we are all inter-connected.  Would you disrespect your best friend or throw your recent designer bag purchase on the ground?  I think not.  So give those fruits and veggies a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

For as long as I can remember, a well-balanced, healthy diet was strongly emphasized in my family.  I remember always going to the local farmer’s markets with my mother and helping her select the best batches of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs for dinner that evening, and then standing next to her and watching as she prepared myriad Azerbaijani and Persian dishes from “kookoo” (spinach and leek pie) to fesenjoon (pomegranate chicken stew).  I was taught to be very selective about the ingredients that I consumed, because in the end, they become part of your body and who you are.  Processed foods and frozen TV dinners were not found in our home; my parents used to say too many ingredients can never be good ingredients.  I carried this “food culture” with me when I left home, and found that there was nothing more peaceful or rewarding than creating a healthy meal with fresh ingredients and enjoying it with friends and family.   

In 2010, there were 925 million individuals hungry in our world.  As the fortunate ones who have access to and the means to nourish ourselves, we must not only be grateful, but we must go one step further and share our abundance.  Instead of spending every waking hour counting calories and fixating on attaining an unhealthy image of skinny, I propose a metamorphosis; instead why not embrace nourishment?  Why not permit ourselves to become mindful of the nurturing opportunities that become possible through food preparation and consumption and share this sustenance with those less fortunate.  Each bite is a blessing. The rich flavors, the textures, the palatal stimulation; eating is quite an awesome experience!  And in the end, mindful eating does benefit us: 

We draw more pleasure from the eating process.

We are less likely to overeat because we become more aware of sensations of hunger and fullness.

We are satisfied with smaller portions.

We chew thoroughly and hence digestion improves.

We feel at peace knowing that as a part of this universe we are not taking another part for granted.

As with any new lifestyle change, it is best to start with small steps.  Make a resolution to become mindful of breakfast each day, that is if you are awake enough at that time (on second thought maybe a post-coffee meal like lunch is better).  And for the love of God, stop texting, blogging, emailing or whatever it is you are checking (likely facebook)- stop doing that- during meals.  You can’t be mindful if your mind is somewhere else.

How wonderful would it be if we could be mindful and aware of this offering during all phases of each meal: as we sit and behold the aesthetic appeal of the culinary arrangement before us, as our palates are gripped with luscious flavors as we chew, and post-prandially as we reflect on the pleasure we drew from the experience.  Again, I am not suggesting the impractical or impossible for I am aware most of us do not live the lives of the Buddhist monk or the Sufi dervish.  I am merely suggesting we give food its due respect and pause for a moment each day to be thankful.  

“There is nourishment like bread that feeds one part of your 
life and nourishment like light for another.  There are many rules 
about restraint with the former, but only one rule for the latter, 
never be satisfied.  Eat and drink the soul substance, as a wick 
does with the oil it soaks in.  Give light to the company."



Anonymous said...

Wow, I love this post! You nailed it on the head! I am a second year medical student who has battled an eating disorder all through undergrad and am currently in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I was doing so well until this last term. Unfortunately, in medical school there are all kinds of triggers, and it's difficult to take time (but not an obsessive amount of time) to take care of ourselves and treat ourselves with the same kindness we hope to serve or patients with. Some days there is no time, and I find myself skipping or inhaling meals. There has to be a better way. Thank you for posting this!

Solmaz Amirnazmi said...

Thank you for your kind message. I am so glad you enjoyed the read and you are very welcome. I am sorry to hear that you have recently been unwell and hope and trust that you are under good care and will get better soon. Congrats on making it to second year of med school! That's quite an accomplishment and just remember, the last two years are much easier (and more enjoyable) than the first two- something to look forward to :)

Bethany said...

Very well said. I always believe that 70% of good health comes from our diet. Sadly most people are taking it for granted.

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Solmaz Amirnazmi said...

Thanks Bethany-so glad you liked the piece. It's challenging to find time to pause in our fast paced lives-that's why small steps and changes are key. We may not be able to suddenly transform into mindful eaters at each meal, but we can certainly control if we are checking facebook or twitter at the dinner table :-)

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