Amidst all the fad diets, the no-carbs, pro-cabbage, soup-only, and anti-bread hawkers out there is one eating idea that is anything but a diet. It takes no special skills and requires no expensive meals; no celebrity endorses it and there are no pills to consume or foods you are denied.
It is called conscious eating.
Conscious eating is not a diet, it is the anti-diet. It is a way of life and a philosophy which declares that you are the expert of your own body – and you just have to listen to it in order to know what, when, and how much to eat. When you feel a tinge of hunger, you need not open a diet book and count points or consult your eating oracle or call your Weight Watchers team. All you just need to listen to your body, and give it what it wants.
You may think your body will want brownies and pistachio ice cream and nachos. If you’ve been dieting lately, indeed your deprived self will no doubt first reach for the sweets or salty snacks. But we have all felt the fatigue and wretchedness that follows a fast-food meal, or a giant turkey dinner, or half a pie. Your body does not function or feel well after indulging like this, and you know it.
Conscious eating is all about paying attention to your body and what you put in it, savoring and enjoying every single bite, and only eating what you really desire. The key to conscious eating is to learn to listen to your body before, during, and after meals. There are a few easy tips to get you started, but remember: conscious eating is a journey that will last your whole life, and cannot be mastered in a week.
- Slow down. We live in a fast-paced world where work (and even fun) happen at a breakneck speed. Often our mealtimes get pushed into this ethos of quickness, and lunch becomes just another thing to cross off your to-do list. With conscious eating, you must slow down and set aside a little time for every meal. You don’t need three hours; even fifteen minutes might be an improvement for you.
- Eat when you are hungry, and only when you are hungry. Do not eat because you are sad, tired, bored, because other people are eating, or because it is noon and time for lunch. Listen to your body, and learn to recognize physical hunger versus other types of hunger: sexual, emotional, spiritual, and mental.
- Eat in a designated dining spot. How many times have you eaten at your desk, in your car, or in front of the TV? As champion multi-taskers we all do it and may even pride ourselves on how much we get done during mealtimes. But save the multitasking for other things and when you eat, sit down at a table or another space that is marked off from the rest of the environment, like a park bench.
- Create an eating environment in your home. Set your table, pour the wine, turn on some chill music, and create an atmosphere. Make every meal a special experience that engages the five senses, not just an afterthought as you are running to your next appointment. Pause in gratitude before your meal or snack to express appreciation for this bountiful life.
- Never eat standing up. Think about what you eat while standing: hors-d’oeuvres, free cookies at the bank, nibbles at parties, samples from your own dinner. Not only do food items that you tend to eat standing up fall on the fatty side, but you are probably also doing something else and not paying attention. Banish all upright eating.
- Just eat. When eating meals alone, don’t watch TV, don’t read, don’t surf the web, don’t chat on the phone, don’t do ANYTHING but eat. Concentrate on the smell, taste, texture and sight of your foot. Relish every bite and chew slowly. Finish each bite before taking another, and put your fork down between bites if this helps. Enjoy your food.
- Stop eating when you are full. Check in with your body regularly as you slowly eat, and stop when you are full.
- Relax after your meal. Now would be the time to read a bit of that novel. How does your body feel? Take note of what you ate and how it made you feel thirty minutes after you finish eating.
- If you want a chocolate truffle, eat a chocolate truffle. Don’t placate your body with cheap sandwich cookies if what you truly desire is a truffle, as you will just wind up eating more cookies to satiate your truffle desire (and that will never work). Good foods and bad foods do not exist – it’s all just food. Do not deprive yourself, just indulge in moderation.
- Make these changes little by little each day; don’t expect a revelation after your first dinner. Changing your mindset is a slow process, but with these few small steps you can begin to eat consciously and start the journey to a more balanced, healthy body. When you listen to your body, you will become more in-touch with each passing day to its true desires and you will be able to take care of it responsibly as only you can know how.
Raised in the Fort Worth area, Shilo Urban moved to Austin, Maine, Paris, Seattle, New Zealand, and Los Angeles before finding her way home a few years ago. Along the way, she has had over three dozen different jobs, including high school French teacher, record label manager, and farmhand for endangered livestock breeds. She’s traveled to more than 50 countries and always has the next trip planned. Shilo has been a freelance writer for over a decade and has published in Fort Worth Magazine, Fort Worth Weekly, and Afar. Her interests include lost civilizations, jalapeño peppers, and Game of Thrones. She is currently writing a thriller and lives in Fort Worth with the stars of this article, Steve and Lenny.