The Most Important Practice in Finding Health
There are few things in the realm of dietary modification that promise immediate, measureable improvements in health and wellbeing. For example, eating an extra serving of vegetables will certainly improve your health, but determining exactly how much it will affect your cholesterol, A1c, or body composition is going to be somewhat difficult, if not impossible.
When evaluating the health improvements that any one health may impart, we must also take into consideration the fact that we often adopt multiple healthful habits at once, which, together, produce a profound effect upon health, but being able to contribute a specific amount of said improvement to x, y, or z isn’t going to happen. For example, you may have better, more consistent bowel movements, but can that be attributed to an increase in vegetable intake, decrease in non-vegetable intake, or any of the almost infinite dietary/lifestyle modifications (more exercise, less smoking and drinking, etc.) one could make to improve health.
Improvements also have to be measured against previous habits, current health status, mental outlook, support structure and any medications that are taken or discontinued during the experience.
Basically, finding true health is a multifactorial process where benefit is hard, if not impossible, to attribute to any one specific dietary or behavior modification.
However, there is one step we can take to immediately improve our health and wellbeing in a big way. If you do nothing else, this one thing can dramatically improve how you feel, act, and perform.
Doing this one simple thing will increase the quality and decrease the quantity of your intake; improve your food’s taste and the nourishment it provides; and directly contribute to the attainment of your health and wellness goals in a significant way.
The single most important practice that we must fully embrace in order to find new and improved health is……mindfulness!
Mindfulness is the non-judgmental awareness of what is happening in the present moment. The ability to perceive, or be conscious of, objects, events, emotions, and patterns that exist within and around self – feelings, emotions, health, people, places, and things – in the here-and-the now – this day, hour, minute, and second.
If we are operating on auto-pilot, taking in anything and everything without regard for how it interact with our physical, psychological, or spiritual self, we are not being mindful.
If our thoughts are focused on the past or the future, two conditions that contradict the present and interfere with the attainment of presence, we are not being mindful.
Notice how I used the word “conditions” in reference to the past and future? The past and future are constructs that we create from fragmented memories stored in multiple places throughout the brain that may not be activated or compiled in the correct manner and may lead to the improper incorporation, i.e. false memories and unrealistic expectations.
Through mindfulness we become aware of and resolve any discrepancies that exists between our present state of being and our goals, values, and ideals. For example, if we wish to be in better concert with the environment, we must be aware of our contribution to environmental degradation – waste production, recycling habits, and consumer purchase decisions – and how the actions of others are promoting or interfering with our purpose.
In terms of diet, mindfulness, especially around our food and environment, may better allow for the creation of a sustainable and truly nourishing nutrition philosophy. Finding a sustainable, nourishing routine is the cornerstone of finding long-term improvements in health and wellbeing.
According to the Center for Mindful Eating, the principles of mindful eating are:
- Allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom.
- Using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body.
- Acknowledging responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment.
- Becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating.
And, someone who eats mindfully:
- Acknowledges that there is no right or wrong way to eat but varying degrees of awareness surrounding the experience of food.
- Accepts that their eating experiences are unique.
- Is an individual who by choice, directs their attention to eating on a moment-by-moment basis.
- Gains awareness of how they can make choices that support health and well being.
- Becomes aware of the interconnection of earth, living beings, and cultural practices and the impact of their food choices on those systems.
Mindfulness also enhances the flavor of food and its ability to nourish the body.
In practice, the easiest way to create mindfulness around our food may be to ask ourselves these questions before, during, and after our eating experience:
- Where am I?
- What is my body position?
- What is going on around me?
- Am I really hungry?
- What does the food look, smell, feel, and taste like?
- What am I thinking about?
- What am I feeling?
- What do I really want to eat?
- How can I enhance my experience of eating?
There are many, many, many other questions you may ask yourself to increase your awareness and presence, a.k.a. mindfulness, while eating, but it may be best to stick with these so we don’t over-intellectualize the experience and miss an important event inside or out.
Again, mindfulness is the quickest and easiest way to dramatically improve health!
However you decide to practice, prepare yourself for an experience that blows the doors off your current understanding and instills a new found appreciation for the impact that food has on our physical, psychological, and spiritual wellbeing. Cheers!