Eating for health: food is more than just a habit

So often, I see people who just eat on autopilot. They’re not mindful of what they’re eating; they don’t really give it much thought at all. They just feel hungry or bored and grab whatever the first thing is that comes to mind—pizza, fast food, whatever.

But it’s worth giving more attention to what we eat. Eating is a huge part of our lives—we all eat every day. Consequently, conscious eating can make an enormous difference in how we feel, and even how we live.

What do I mean by conscious or mindful eating? There are several levels to it.

First, just paying attention to the experience of eating. It’s habit for many people to eat in front of the television, or at their desks at work, clicking through emails in between bites of lunch. I do that myself sometimes. But when we distract ourselves while eating, we miss out. We don’t get to really enjoy the food, or savor the act of eating. We also don’t get to feel gratitude for it, to appreciate the labor that went into making it. We’re distracted—too busy focusing on something else to experience any of this. The food is here one moment, gone the next, and we’ve barely even noticed.

Next time you sit down to a meal, try just being in the act of eating. It might feel strange, almost uncomfortably quiet, if you’re used to eating in front of the television. But it’s a great way to become more present.

The second level of conscious eating is paying attention to what it is we’re actually eating. By this I mean: what kind of food are we putting into our bodies? Something healthy—or something not so much?

It’s easy, if we don’t think about it, to get sucked into an unhealthy diet—ordering pizza a few nights a week, microwaving frozen dinners a few nights more. But our bodies feel better when we give them what they really need—fresh, healthy, unprocessed real food. See for yourself: eat a few slices of pizza and pay attention to how you feel for the next few hours. Then cook a dinner loaded with greens and see how you feel then.

The third level of conscious eating takes it even further—rather than just thinking about how our food makes us feel, we can think about the impact it has on the wider community. This could mean buying from local farmers markets, rather than a big grocery store, in order to support local farmers. It can mean buying organic, to protect the earth from harsh pesticides and herbicides. It can mean eating vegetarian, vegan or choosing to buy meat and eggs that are pasture-raised.  

When we pay attention to what we eat, we can do a lot of good.