Mindful Eating for Balance

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Mindful Eating for Balance

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How would you define the term balanced living? For some people, it may mean that all the necessary “pieces” of their life are in place. Perhaps they are healthy and live with minimal stress, worry, or sadness. Perhaps they have mastered the art of mindful eating and that has positively impacted other areas of their lives. While there is no concrete definition for balanced living, studies have shown that life satisfaction is directly linked to well-being and can be assessed through health, economic, marital, personal, family, social, and job satisfaction. In turn, life satisfaction may motivate people to pursue and reach their goals[1].

Why is it important to strive for a balanced life? The costs associated with reduced quality of life and well-being can be high. When quality of life and well-being are absent, stress is likely to manifest and remain present for quite some time. Untreated chronic stress can lead to inflammation and a number of health-related conditions. In addition, stress can exacerbate many common illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases. It is estimated that as many as 75-90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints, adding up to an annual bill of more than $300 billion[2].

3 ways to Achieve Balance

There are a variety of techniques that can be implemented to reduce stress and improve quality of life. I have chosen to incorporate these three practices into my life:

  1. Meditation / mindfulness
  2. Yoga / movement
  3. Whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) nutrition

These practices have given me a solid foundation with long term benefits, and each practice contributes to health in a unique way. Mindfulness and meditation help us recognize stressful or negative thoughts and redirect attention to awareness of the present moment. Yoga is a physical practice, a moving meditation of various asanas (postures) that give the body strength, flexibility, balance and peace. The connection of breath and movement creates calmness and may stimulate palliative effects, such as enhanced mental equilibrium and reduced blood pressure[3]. Optimal whole foods, plant-based nutrition counteracts the negative effects of chronic stress through the increased intake of antioxidant-rich, nutrient-dense, foods.

Mindful Eating in 5 steps

  1. Choose foods that are good for your health and the planet. This step may be somewhat easy for whole foods, plant-based individuals who already choose foods that nourish our body, and vegans who are concerned about the well-being of animals.
  2. Be fully present while eating. This means turning off your television, stepping away from the computer, ignoring your cell phone, and offering your full attention to the meal, which also means no eating while driving.
  3. Learn to savor each bite, the smell, the texture, the colors, and the taste. Pay close attention to the change in the intensity of the flavor of the food as you chew.
  4. Eat slowly; knowing that your body is able to process smaller amounts of food more efficiently than large portions that are eaten quickly.
  5. Allow yourself to stop eating once you are 80 percent full. This 80 percent rule is called hara haci bu and is practiced by many in the long-lived Okinawan population[4]. Always avoid overeating, which will lead to unhealthy weight gain.

Some final thoughts on incorporating mindful dietary practices into your life are best summed up by Vietnamese Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh: “Using mindfulness to look deeply at what you eat can make it much easier to make such changes, because you realize the benefits they can bring to the planet and yourself-lower weight, lower risk of colon cancer and heart disease, more energy for doing the things you enjoy”[5].

This summer find some time to slow down and practice being mindful in everything you do. Take a moment to look at a beautiful sunset, get lost in nature, run through a field of flowers, or look up at a night sky full of stars. Each day remember to be grateful for your health and always be kind to yourself.

References

  1. Sahu, K. (2013). Subjective well-being and life satisfaction among male and female adults. Indian Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(4), 525-527. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1614019101?accountid=4216
  2. Web MD. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/effects-of-stress-on-your-body
  3. Raina, D., & Balodi, G. (2014). Enhancing students’ life through stress reduction exercises in yoga. Indian Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(2), 187-191. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1614029891?accountid=4216
  4. Buettner, D. (2008). The blue zones. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.
  5. Nhat Hahn, T., & Cheung, L. (2010). Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life. New York, NY: Harper One.
  6. Marsh, K., Zeuschner, C., & Saunders, A. (2012). Health implications of a vegetarian diet: A review. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 6(3), 250-267. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1559827611425762

Alison is a registered dietitian, author, certified meditation teacher, registered yoga teacher, and instructor for the Plant-Based Nutrition Certficate. She holds a master’s degree in health science and will begin her doctorate degree in health education this fall. As a dietitian and wellness educator, she integrates the practices of stress reduction, physical movement, and mindful plant-based eating into her teaching. She is known for her ability to motivate and inspire clients, in order to help them achieve their health and wellness goals.
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