Learning to listen to your body’s cues can help point you toward a balanced way of eating that’s right for you, says dietician and Yoga teacher Sat Hanuman. The lead nutritionist says that eating right starts with bringing conscious awareness to the table.
Slowing down and tuning in to all five senses will help you develop an approach to eating that supports your well-being. “we don’t teach or prescribe one diet. We teach the practice of paying attention to how a particular food or way of eating makes you feel,” says Hanuman. “It’s a practice.
And we become better at discerning the body’s messages with practice.”So, rather than resolving to stick to a new diet plan, why not practice observing and listening to your body? Here are five tips for intuitively eating well.
1. Slow down & Savor
The first and most important principle of eating with conscious awareness, says Hanuman, is simply to slow down. Remember the old rule of chewing your food 100 times? In Ayurveda the practice is 32 chews for each bite. “Try it and see what your food tastes like at the end,” suggests Hanuman . “A lot of fast food, when chewed to that degree, tastes like a mouthful of chemicals, whereas an apple or a vegetable will taste sweet.”
Just making the effort to eat a meal more slowly, says Hanuman, will lead you to pay more attention to the sensory experience of food in a way that affects your dietary choices. “You’ll actually taste what you are eating, and let’s face it,when you really taste processed food, it’s not that good.”
Slowing down and consciously chewing your food has myriad benefits: It can improve digestion, reduce mindless munching in front of the TV or the computer, and discourage the impulse to take a shortcut with processed food. Instead, you’ll find yourself experiencing new flavours and observing your reactions to them—the vegetal bite of leafy greens, the juicy sweetness of a raw carrot, the sharp bite of a fresh radish.
“It’s a practice of learning to use your senses again,” Hanuman says.
2 Get to Know Your Hunger
Hunger is a biological urge with attendant physical sensations: Your stomach rumbles, your energy dips, perhaps you even get irritable. But it’s easy, particularly if you’re in the habit of eating when you’re bored or stressed, to lose touch with what hunger actually feels like. Reconnecting with the sensation of physical hunger is a crucial element of eating with conscious awareness, says Hanuman, and one that requires the ability to distinguish emotional cravings from physical messages of need.
Hanuman recommends developing a habit of asking yourself before you reach for a snack: “Am I famished? Moderately hungry? Or am I bored, nervous at this party, or frustrated after my workday?” This initiates what he calls a“body-based inquiry” that puts you in touch with what your body is telling you it needs.
In yoga class, Human points out, we focus on sensation, and we practice returning our attention to the breath and body when our mind drifts. The result is an enhanced ability to distinguish a deep stretch from a pushing-too-hard feeling or a stressed, shallow breath from a relaxed belly breath. That same principle, says Hanuman, applies to hunger.“The growl of physical hunger is very different from the urge to eat out of boredom,” he says,“and the more yoga you do, the more obvious that difference is.”
3. Treat Your Cravings With Compassion
As you slow down and begin to pay more attention to what and when you eat,it will become easier to differentiate a craving from a message your body sends to tell you “This is a supportive food,” or“This food may or may not work as well,”Hanuman says. For example, when the cold months hit, you might find yourself gravitating toward warm, filling fare such as soups, stews, warm grain salads, and sweet root vegetables. But what about those times when what you’re craving is chocolate layer cake or pizza?
Rather than classifying any craving as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, says Hanuman, you can choose to see it as another opportunity for compassionate self observation. Listen to your craving without judgment. Whether you consciously decide to eat the food you’re craving or wait to see if the urge passes, the important thing is to stay conscious and connected with what you’re eating.“
Should you get into a situation when you’re overeating all this beautiful, rich food in the wintertime,” Hanuman says, “it’s an opportunity to step back and say,‘Oh, am I not a fascinating being? Look at what I’m doing; I wonder what that’s about,’ and approach the episode not as a failure or as ‘bad,’ but just as ‘Here’s another fascinating facet of my being.’ ”treat your cravings with compassion.
4. Find the Middle Ground
Many Eastern cultures practice the tradition of eating just until gently satisfied. In the Japanese culture, it’s called “harahachi bu”. In yoga, it’s mit-ahara, or eating lightly. In Ayurveda, the rule is to fill the belly one-half with food and one-quarter with liquid, leaving the remaining quarter empty. But Western culture offers fewer guides to eating moderately.
“Moderation is acknowledged as a good thing to have and maybe essential for health, but we just don’t hear much about how to be moderate,” says Hanuman, who suggests experimenting with what it feels like to eat moderately by leaving a little food on your plate.
Making a practice of eating just until you are gently sated can help you learn how much food is enough and also give you some common sense tools for choosing which foods to make a part of your regular diet
5. Make Food an Offering—to Yourself
When it comes to eating consciously, just as important as the awareness you bring to the process of eating a meal is the care and attention you give to preparing it. When she teaches a meditation for conscious eating, Hanuman begins with selecting and preparing the food. Choose something simple, he suggests—like a sandwich, a salad, or even a piece of fruit.
“As you prepare your food,take your time, breathe, and move slowly. Appreciate each ingredient with each of your five senses. What is its color and texture? How does it smell? Does it have sound? Does it have a vibration?”
Pay attention to the colours and textures of the fresh ingredients as you rinse lettuces for a salad, peel an orange, or use your hands to coat vegetables with oil before roasting. And think about the honour you’re doing both the food and yourself with your attention.
Giving your full attention to the raw ingredients of your meal predisposes you to choose whole, fresh, sense-pleasing foods over processed ones. But beyond that, when you make food an offering to yourself, Hanuman says, the effects of that care benefit your body. “When you think about food as a carrier for prana, or life force,” says Hanuman,“then the intention with which you prepare food is an essential element of its being healthful.”