ALLURE MEDICAL - all•u Magazine all·u Magazine Spring 2018 | Page 15

practice in the Mindful Meal Challenge. One meal per day is admittedly arbitrary. Sometimes I find it convenient to do more, sometimes I do less. But it’s a simple benchmark that I find effective. You can adjust it to whatever works best for you. When you dedicate time to practice a few things happen. A big one is that when you’re eating a meal that isn’t your dedicated mindful practice meal, you don’t have to feel guilty if you aren’t eating mindfully. Relax. Enjoy yourself. Multitask. Eat a corn dog while dancing the polka and watching reruns of M*A*S*H. It doesn’t matter. Mindfulness will likely trickle into your other meals if you’re practicing regularly, but there’s no need to force it. MINDFULNESS BRINGS AWARENESS TO YOUR UNCONSCIOUS HABITS Another thing that happens when you practice mindful eating is you learn to observe all the quirky habits you have while you eat. You learn how your mind wanders, what triggers you to eat quickly, that you actually like Justin Bieber music more than you care to admit, that you have an incessant impulse to look at your phone, that certain things consistently steal your attention away from your present experience, and how long it takes to bring it back. Once I became aware of this trigger I was suddenly able to recognize it during the eating process and resist the urge. I now have a habit of setting my fork down if I catch myself with a ready bite so I can finish chewing before I swallow. My regular stomach aches disappeared shortly after. learning a language or playing an instrument. Without practice your skill weakens. With practice it comes to you more naturally. The awareness that comes from mindfulness provides the pause you need to intentionally choose your habits rather than follow your impulses blindly. The short answer is that you need to practice regularly, ideally one meal per day. This is even cooler than it sounds on the surface. MINDFULNESS HABITS ALSO BECOME AUTOMATIC There are some habits that tend to go hand in hand with developing a mindful eating practice: making better food choices, avoiding emotional eating, setting up an eating environment that promotes better behaviors (e.g. sitting at a table, turning off the TV), chewing more, eating at a slower pace, stopping when no longer hungry, etc. The more of these habits you develop, the less damage mindless eating will cause. Like any habits, the ones you build as a result of your mindful eating practice ultimately become automatic themselves. This means you are more likely to do them during your normal meals without much thought or effort. This awareness is critical because normally all these habits happen unconsciously, dragging you along at their mercy. When you become aware of them through mindfulness you reclaim your ability change your response. Moreover, eating itself eventually becomes a trigger for mindfulness. As you become aware of what it feels like to eat mindfully, many of your more distracted eating habits (like not chewing) start to feel uncomfortable and you naturally snap out of it and adjust. For example, through mindful eating I discovered that having a prepared bite on my fork is a strong trigger for me to swallow what is in my mouth quickly and open it again for the ready bite. This is true whether the food is fully chewed or not, and causes me to eat much faster than I should. The end result is that the more you practice mindful eating, the less you need to try to be mindful. It’s a positive feedback loop that makes you more aware of your healthy habits, while also making the process itself easier. It’s almost a mindless mindfulness, although not quite. Mindfulness is a cultivated skill, like This phenomenon helps us answer our question of when to actively try to eat mindfully. The caveat is that it will be difficult at the beginning and require willpower and conscious effort. Yet as your practice develops, it gets easier and comes to you more naturally. The cadence of your practice doesn’t need to change, about one meal per day. But over time you will likely become more mindful in your eating and it will require less willful effort. That said, there is a limit to the magic. You can’t simply instill a mindful eating habit for a few weeks or months then count on your brain to keep it there indefinitely. Without practice, your mindfulness will fade and more distracted habits will step in to fill the space. Stick with it though, and you hardly have to think about it. Darya Rose is the author of Foodist: Using Real Food and Real Science to Lose Weight Without Dieting and creator of Summer Tomato (summertomato. com), one of TIME's 50 Best Websites. She received her Ph.D in neuroscience from UCSF and her bachelor’s degree in Molecular and Cell Biology from UC Berkeley. Darya spends most of her time thinking and writing about food, health and science. 2018 SPRING 15