For many people, mealtimes can be an unpleasurable experience. If that resonated with you, think back to a time when you felt anxiety before eating a meal. Perhaps you were confused about what you wanted to order, or maybe you were craving something in particular but didn’t want to ‘sway’ from your diet.
When we allow ourselves the freedom to eat without guilt, we can transform our mealtimes into a truly pleasurable, shared experience with friends and loved ones. Here are some of the principles that have helped me reduce anxiety and stress around mealtimes. I hope they’ll help you, too.
REDUCING STRESS AROUND MEAL TIMES
1. Tune into how you’re feeling: Are you feeling stressed or relaxed? Is your stomach starting to clench? Are you limiting your breath, or are you breathing deeply? Is your heart racing, or are you feeling calm and present? Observe your thoughts and your physical responses.
2. Take three big breaths: The next time you sit down to enjoy a meal, I recommend practising deep belly breathing. Inhale deeply and close your eyes for a moment to feel into your body. Do this at least three times. This simple act helps to bring you into the present moment.
3. Remove judgement: Instead of worrying about what you’re about to eat, try to chew slowly and focus on each mouthful. It’s the judgement of food that causes stress in the body and prevents you from digesting and absorbing nutrients optimally. Remember that 80 per cent of the time, your goal is to eat nourishing wholefoods. Twenty per cent of the time, that allows for more indulgent options. The 80/20 rule allows you to incorporate balance into your diet and to enjoy each meal.
4. Consider what you feel like eating: Do you feel like something warm and wholesome? Raw and fresh? Hearty and rustic? Whatever it is, give yourself permission to order what you truly feel like eating and know that your body is equipped with the skills to digest your food.
5. Be mindful: Eating is such a pleasurable experience. Enjoy the flavours and textures of your food, and don’t rush through big bites. You’ll find that when you have smaller bites, you can taste the depth of flavour in the food and savour the experience. Also, when you become a conscious eater, you’re more able to sense when you’re full, which prevents you from overeating.
6. Commit to making each meal pleasurable: Ensure you’re sitting in a peaceful environment, away from your phone, computer and TV. Being in front of screens puts you into a distracted, reactive headspace. When you’re in this zone, your brain isn’t able to register what you’ve eaten, which leaves you feeling unsatisfied. If you’re at home, put your favourite music on, light a candle and sit at a table. If you’re eating out, observe the space you’re in and the people who are around you.
7. Consider how you feel after eating: Did your meal make you feel satiated and energised, or tired and sluggish? Observing how you feel after eating is the best guide to knowing which foods make you feel good and which foods don’t. Keep that in mind the next time you cook or order from a menu, to ensure you’re making the right choices for your body.
8. Remove the pressure of doing it ‘perfectly’: Commit to eating well because it makes you feel good. Once you do that, then allow some room for indulgence.
I have plenty more mindful eating tips, pre-meal meditations and nutrition guidelines in my 8-week Program.