As I sit down to the hot, fresh meal I have just prepared in my humble kitchen, I must take a moment to remind myself of my intention. My goal is to not inhale this meal like so many in the past. I want to fully experience the food I have carefully cooked and this requires a certain level of focus and self-discipline. There is no television noise, no music, and no conversation taking place. I inhale and exhale deeply and take notice of the quietness around me. I look down and admire each component of the meal which I have artfully arranged on my 7 inch plate. I am so grateful for this opportunity I have to interact with fresh, whole foods. I imagine the sunlight, earth and energy that provided these foods to me. How wonderful it feels to reflect on where this meal came from!

I pick up my fork and gather my first bite. Before putting the fork in my mouth, I inhale the sweet aromas rising from it. I then place the food into my mouth and take a moment to notice the temperature and the texture. As I set my fork down, I begin chewing the food enjoying the flavors as I breathe in and out. I continue to chew the food allowing my saliva to mix with it and I do this until the food is well blended; usually 25-30 chews. I may close my eyes every once in a while so I can simply focus on what is taking place with each bite, but my intention is to be present in this moment of consumption. I do this same routine for each bite until I notice that the hunger feeling is gone and I simply stop eating. This routine is not always easy (especially when I am very hungry), but what I just described is a practice called mindful eating.

The practice of mindfulness encourages the use of all five senses during an experience in order to acknowledge and be aware of what is happening in that moment. It is about being fully present in an activity, whether it is a walk in the park or a home-cooked meal. In fact, almost anything can be done mindfully as long as the goal is to be mindful. At first it may be difficult to practice, especially if each day is spent focusing on what is happening next or what has happened the past rather than what is happening in the current moment. It is easy for the mind to wonder. Choosing to adopt mindful eating now, can result in many benefits later; especially for the digestive tract.

Our bodies negatively react when too much food is eaten too quickly; especially if the food is not properly chewed. Feeling lethargic, bloated, and generally uncomfortable after a meal is an indication of poor eating habits. In fact, the body is intrinsically designed to tell you when it is full. It does this through a coordinated effort by the mouth, stomach, and brain. Enzymes in saliva begin the eating process and nerves in the stomach send signals to the brain to end it. If a large amount of food is consumed in a short period of time, the body does not have a chance to tell the brain it is full and it oftentimes leads to overeating. Overeating results in abdominal pain, weight gain, digestive issues, and other discomforts like nausea or constipation.

When eating mindfully, you may find:

• much less food is needed to feel full
• abdominal pain, bloating and lethargy disappear
weight loss or weight maintenance is easier
• mealtimes are more peaceful rather than rushed and routine
• a reduction in after-meal snacking because you are not searching for the eating experience you missed while being distracted during mealtime.

By simply making an effort to incorporate mindful eating, you can quickly see the benefits. Below is a list of mindful eating practices:

• Chew your food thoroughly
• Set your fork down between each bite
• Take the time to look at, smell and taste the food while taking notice of how it feels in your mouth. Consider the texture and temperature. How does it sound when you chew it?
• Consider why you are eating; are you actually hungry or are you filled with an emotion like stress or sadness?
• Turn off all distractions that may take you away from the eating experience like television, radio, your computer, or your cell phone
• Buy locally grown food so you know where your food came from and how it was grown
• Connect with your food by preparing it yourself, at home
• Take notice of how pleasurable eating is and how good it feels to nourish the body
• Show gratitude for what you are about to consume
• Notice how you feel during and after the meal; consider starting a food journal

Author's Bio: 

Dawn Hans is a certified holistic health coach trained at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She specializes in whole food and vegetarian diets, natural weight loss, increased energy, digestive issues, green living, and natural self-care. Her passion for health and wellness was built on the principles of preventive care and traditional medicine.