Life Advice Tester: Eat Mindfully
And how are you today? Have you been on some kind of spiritual journey lately? You just look so well-rested!
As your trusted Life Advice Tester (patent pending), my job is to try on the advice of others in order to find a way of living that Saint Beyoncé might approve of. So far my experiments have challenged me mentally – meeting a stranger every day, making my life choices in under sixty seconds and embracing boredom. But for this week's challenge, I wanted to try something that would be a test for my body.
This Week's Advice: Eat Mindfully.
The Adviser: Nutritionist Lauren Felts AKA the Holy Kale
Lauren Felts is a nutritionist, but more than that, she is a lady on a mission to live a radiantly healthy life and to inspire others to do the same. Her website and Instagram reveal a world of glorious hikes, flowers in bloom and most importantly, food that looks not only healthy, but also positively delicious. Whereas Lauren posts photos of salads full of kale, snap-peas, cashews and mint, I am lucky that no photos have surfaced of me and my college diet of Gatorade, Top Ramen and Bailey's Irish Cream (YUM!). As my first step towards leading a healthier life, Lauren challenged me to eat mindfully.
What exactly is mindful eating, though? Is it counting how many times one chews one's food, à la Betty Draper? I asked my friends what they thought mindful eating meant and most held that it was a dieting technique. I decided that for me, eating mindfully had nothing to do with losing weight, but instead was a firm commitment to the actual act of eating. For one week, I would challenge myself to stay present and in the moment while dining. No distractedly checking e-mail over dinner, no eating pizza while walking, no popcorn while watching a movie.
Test 1: No Mindless Snacking
Have you ever been standing at your kitchen counter when suddenly you realize that not only are you eating a bowl of coconut-based ice cream, but also that you are almost done with said bowl? Mindless snacking is more than just a bad habit of mine, it's my coping mechanism for my chronic struggle with hanger (hunger + anger). Without a snack every few hours, I morph into a starved Dr. Jekyl, as entitled and cranky as Nicki Minaj on a bad day but with none of the hit tunes. Since I MEDICALLY could not give up snacking due to the aforementioned plague, I decided that when I had a snack, I would have to plan it and make eating my sole activity.
For my first test, I decided I would eat a mindful after-hike snack: an orange. With its pits and peels, an orange demands the consumer's attention. It seemed like a super easy and gentle test of mindful eating. How wrong I was. I remember putting the fruit on my cutting board, I remember grabbing a knife, but then – in all honesty – the orange was gone. WHEN HAD I EATEN IT? HAD I BLACKED OUT? It didn't get much better from the orange. I helplessly watched as I continued to inhale sleeves of Thin Mints, packs of gum and countless almonds. As hard as I tried to be mindful while eating, it was almost as if I had long ago trained myself to turn off my brain the moment I started to eat.
Test Two: One Week of Mindful Breakfasts
After my first epic fail, it was time to pick myself up out of the life advice gutter and try again, this time with a more gentle and manageable goal. Instead of trying to change all of my snacking habits in one fell swoop, I would commit myself to eating one week of mindful breakfasts.
Since middle school, my go-to breakfast has been huffing instant oatmeal; it's fast and easy and gross enough that I always thought it must be healthy. But if I was actually going to be present for breakfast, I knew I had to find foods that would make me excited enough to pay attention. I went to my farmer's market and chose bright red strawberries, sweet blueberries and tart blackberries. I stocked up on Greek yogurt and frozen, whole wheat waffles at Trader Joe's. I felt instantly proud of myself for actually having planed where I would buy my groceries and what I would eat that week (confession: CVS often counts as a grocery store for me and popcorn has long been my chief grain).
Instead of my usual half-asleep scramble to microwave my oatmeal, each morning I chopped up my strawberries and tossed them with my other berries. I then artfully placed them on my Greek yogurt and drizzled Agave Nectar for good measure. On occasion, I added a wheat waffle with peanut butter. Not only did the food look beautiful but every bite just tasted good, and perhaps better for the effort that had gone into its preparation. It just felt plain nice to sit in my kitchen with my little bowl of breakfast and enjoy. I thought about the food: who farmed these strawberries? And why had I betrayed honey for agave nectar? Was that around the time I started pronouncing quinoa as "keen-wah"? As the week progressed, I added coconut flakes to my yogurt and French Pressed coffee with almond milk as a special treat. I didn't feel like breakfast was a chore to get through; I felt I was lucky to have a little time in my day to savor and enjoy.
The Life Advice Tester Says: Eat Mindfully Right Now
Right now – if you are eating at your computer – put down the food. Eating without distraction and enjoying my food made me realize how many delicious meals I have squandered by checking in with my iPhone or watching TV while eating. Whereas I had thought of food as merely a way to maintain energy and fight off hanger, now I am starting to see food as a luxury and joy that is available to me every day. Even if I'm running low on funds, I can always sit down and enjoy blueberries. Instead of looking at a meal as something to get through, each little meal can be a vacation of sorts where I have the opportunity to just taste and savor. I say treat yourself to eating mindfully: pick something you find truly delicious, sit down, and indulge. I promise you won't be disappointed.
PS: Have life advice for me to try? Tell me in the comments below or @taraschustar.
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