Body building legend and eight time Mr. Olympia Champion, Lee Haney, says that, “The only way to isolate specific back muscles – whether it is upper or lower-back – or make any progress is through the power of the mind-muscle connection.” This declaration articulates the importance of the mind-muscle connection and research and studies prove that it is true. Athletes and coaches alike strive for greater awareness and discipline to practice this muscle development strategy.
What about the mind-food connection?
Nutrition is responsible for 80% of your fitness results, and this proves that there is a definite correlation between your mind and body, and the food you eat. Improving how we think about nutrition and how we eat are important topics that require our attention.
Most of us are familiar with responsible eating. If you have specific fitness goals, then you likely follow a personalized macro meal plan that provides a set amount of carbs, proteins, and fats. For many people, prepping food and eating at specific times is the norm. Using this planned and focused method, however, can come at the expense of losing the ability to listen to your natural hungry cues. As a result, many fall into the pattern of yo-yo dieting, with the rollercoaster of the scale playing a game that is both mentally and physically unfair and exhausting.
If we know that having a focused plan is most effective, how can we maximize our results with nutrition and still be connected to our hunger cues? As the famous Zen proverb states, “When walking, walk, and when eating, eat.”
In the last several years, mindful eating has advanced the conversation about lasting health and fitness sustainability. Studies show that, when participants practice mindful eating, they achieve their weight loss or nutrition goals. Every. Single. Time.
In theory, this should be an easy fix, but it is not that simple. We are all products of our environment and we’re surrounded by constant distractions in most areas of our lives, including eating. Our relationships with food involve habits and patterns that are difficult to change. Taking baby steps while learning how to practice mindful eating is the wisest way to begin creating healthier patterns and ‘rituals’ that surround food.
These five tips will help you as you learn to establish a connection to when and what you are eating.
Tip 1: Before each meal, take a moment and be grateful for what you are about to eat. Focus on the gift of your meal and imagine how it will nourish your body. Standing in gratitude brings direct awareness about what you are eating.
Tip 2: Ask yourself this powerful question: “Am I hungry?”. Hunger is often mistaken for stress or a variety of emotions, such as sadness, loneliness, or depression. Food is a widely-accepted coping mechanism and simply asking yourself whether you are hungry or not can bring awareness to your eating patterns.
Tip 3: Use your senses. Look at your food, notice its colour and shape, and then inhale. Take in the smell of the food you are about to eat. Is it spicy? Is it sweet? Then, as you bring it to your mouth, let it sit on your tongue and taste it…really taste it. Experts recommend that we chew our food thirty-two times. This is important because it makes sure that you don’t woof your food down, but that you are present with the meal before you. Make sure you swallow what’s in your mouth before you take your next bite.
Tip 4: Put your fork down in between bites. Studies show that, over the course of twenty-five days, those who put their fork down in between bites lost two pounds without even trying. That is almost thirty pounds in one year! You can also set a timer for twenty minutes, because it takes the brain this long to register that it is full. Start creating awareness around the length of your meal.
Tip 5: If time and life permit, put all of your electronics away, turn off the television, and connect with your family members and your food. Studies show that those who are distracted while eating will eat more food. Try using your mealtimes as opportunities to make memories with those you love.
Creating awareness about our eating habits is another step in the mind-body connection. Like building muscle, it takes discipline and time. By listening to your body and relying on your natural hunger cues, you will not only start to trust your eating habits, but you’ll also trust yourself in all other areas of your life.