Can evolving the way we consume food make us more productive? Is it possible to reduce stress and its symptoms through shifting our relationship to mealtimes and the activities leading up to them? From my personal experience and the research I’ve reviewed the answer is a resounding “yes.”
This is exactly what happened to me and I started at a very low point, literally choking repeatedly during my triple-tasking lunchtimes.
I set out to discover what had gone so wrong and, most importantly, what I could do to make mealtimes the nourishing experiences I craved while getting my work accomplished.
My solution was to integrate intentional moments of mindfulness throughout my consumption journey- namely meal planning, shopping, cooking and eating. There is a good deal of research around the effectiveness of mindfulness to decrease stress and improve healthy eating and I found them to be very true in my situation.
The approach I use is to bring my attention to the present, breathe deeply a few times and apply non-judgmental, sensory-based curiosity to what is happening in each moment. I repeat this often throughout the day.
Researchers have estimated that we have approximately 60,000 thoughts per day![i] And, over 80 percent of our thoughts are supposedly repeated from day to day. [ii] Mindful moments help me disrupt my never-ending narrative and manage the myriad, sometimes stressful, inputs – screens! hangry people! Now I more deeply inhabit my moments, notice more clearly what is going on around me, and apply my newfound observations to improve my situation.
… to thriving
The result of applying mindfulness around meals was more time, ease, enjoyment, and healthier choices. I stopped choking and even lost some weight. We make over 225 mealtime decisions every day and are unconscious of 200 of them.[iii] Being mindful helped me make better decisions.
Through shifting my approach to my consumption journey I found that my well-being and productivity also improved in other areas of my life.
Just like our unconscious food decisions, many of our thoughts are running in the background repeating a narrative that may be influencing our lives in ways differently than we would prefer.
Here are a few of the ways mindfulness shifted my behavior beyond the kitchen table:
I engage wholly: Yes I post #food pics on social media. But through going analog around food I expanded my ability to connect with life. The difference between looking at great instagram posts and taking the raw salad fixings and using my hands to wash, peel, chop and arrange on a plate is the multisensory connection between the food and myself. I’ve learned to lean in to these moments through my senses – without critique, judgment or a need to “like” it.
Consciously working with raw ingredients feels rich and authentic, simple and perfect. Getting cookie dough under my fingernails seems to quiet my mind and connect me to the food in a straight-forward way. It helps me get real with myself and I now purposefully take this approach to being with people. I like to listen with my eyes and ears and sense the whole situation, not just wait for a gap to speak. Rather than take more time, I’ve found these conversations are more productive and I think it’s because I’m “getting” the whole person and they don’t need to spend time repeating things they thought I did not hear, obfuscating the real issue, or defending themselves.
I move through resistance: Thanks to a lot of practice noticing and dissolving my resistance to meal planning, cooking new foods and chopping onions, I am now able to recognize my resistance in other situations – like starting various projects, making certain decisions, having uncomfortable conversations, and turning off my screens. I now know how to move through them successfully.
I am also more comfortable being uncomfortable and can use my breath to get through ‘fight or flight’ reflexes. This has saved time by dislodging procrastination and has led to many opportunities that would not have existed if I let my resistance hinder me. For example, I was nervous to make a public statement at a large conference the other week but I did it and afterwards several people found me afterwards to discuss working together and one insisted on giving me cash on the spot for some material I was discussing.
I nourish creativity: Practicing real-time mindful observation and curiosity around food has illuminated countless insights and shifted my dining habits. I like to try innovative approaches to suit my newfound understanding. Not only are meals more flavorful, textured and nourishing, so is life.
By carrying the practice of observing with fresh senses and dropping stale assumptions beyond the kitchen I’ve applied insights to creatively increase productivity and insert fun into otherwise dreary activities. Now I optimize activity timing to suit energy levels and gamify personal goals. I’ve found novel ways to reach deadlines with less effort. Mindfulness helps me see more clearly what is around me, create mental space for new ideas to show up and get out of my own way to execute them.
Why does this shift of being around food impact other parts of life?
I believe it’s because how we do one thing is how we do everything.
We bring our identities, habits, preferences, and life approach to all we do.
Shifting ourselves in one area changes us and will flow to other areas as well. Learning to engage with our food in real ways along the entire path to consumption is a great place to start to deeply and authentically engage with ourselves.
Cheers to that!
[i] Christine Comaford, “Got Inner Peace? 5 Ways to Get It Now,” Forbes, April 4, 2012, https://www.forbes.com/sites/christinecomaford/2012/04/04/got-inner-peace-5-ways-to-get-it-now/#76dbc2056672.
[ii] Bruce Davis, “There are 50,000 Thoughts Standing Between You and Your Partner Every Day!,” HuffPost (blog), updated July 23, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-davis-phd/healthy-relationships_b_3307916.html.
[iii] Brian Wansink and Jeffery Sobal, “Mindless Eating: The 200 Daily Food Decisions We Overlook,” Abstract, Environment and Behavior, 39, no. 1 (January 2007): 106–123, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227344004_Mindless_Eating_The_200_Daily_Food_Decisions_We_Overlook.