In this series of posts, I describe simple strategies to build some self-care into your routine, ease your day, and resource yourself. The goal here is to make small changes to pull you out of high-stress, fight-or-flight, survival mode which causes wear-and tear on your body, makes you feel frantic and exhausted, and leaves you feeling pretty crispy. Today’s strategy is comes in two parts. The first part is geared towards mothers with young kids, but the message is useful for any of us who sometimes get so busy that we literally forget to eat.
Part One: Feed yourself. This is not meant metaphorically. This means: eat. If you are like me on frantic (most) days, and like many mothers I know, this is what happens: you spend an extraordinary amount of time preparing good, nutritious, well balanced meals for your child and totally ignore your own need to eat well. You end up eating crackers out of the box while standing in your kitchen, or, worse-you walk into your morning meeting riding high on caffeine and an empty stomach. This is a recipe for anxiety, irritability, and fatigue. Not to mention making you vulnerable to binge-eating anything that is within arm’s reach when you are starving. One simple strategy: whenever you are making something for your child (unless it is pureed peas), double or triple it and eat the same thing. A peanut butter sandwich and carrot stick lunch is much, much better than no lunch at all. A slight variation of this strategy is to spend 20 minutes on Sunday night preparing what I call “emergency food” for the week (quick, easy foods with some protein to get your through the next couple of hours until you get a breather.) Now, part two:
Part Two: Enjoy that peanut butter sandwich. Eating on the run or while working is sometimes necessary when our schedule is overloaded. But even a five minute break from rushing, problem-solving, procrastinating, and multi-tasking can be very helpful. And eating (even the lowly PB&J) can be extremely gratifying and restorative when you do so with mindful awareness. It’s nourishing on multiple levels. So what does mindful eating look like in practice? It actually takes less work than eating on the run. When you eat, just eat. You don’t have to get anything else done. Simply pay attention to each bite. Slow down and chew slowly, tuning into sensations. Notice what it feels like to bring the food to your mouth, to bite, to chew, to swallow, to breathe. Notice sensations in the body. The first time I tried this I was at work, and I noticed that while I was eating, I periodically clenched my fist. When I noticed the fist-clenching, I relaxed my hand and made note of what was going on in my mind. It was always some worry about what might be happening later in the day, or planning related to what I might need to do after I was finished eating. I repeatedly turned my attention back to the present, to the activity of eating, and tuned into those sensations. I took my attention out of my head (where nothing good or helpful was going on) and into my body. This enabled me to let go of unnecessary tension in my hands, slow down my breathing, and enjoy the pleasant sensations of tasting food and, eventually, feeling full. I felt taken care of in those moments.
I encourage you to give mindful eating a try for one meal and see how it feels. It will likely feel incredibly, impossibly slow. It is not uncommon to have feelings of impatience or irritation arise—let’s get this over with and get on to the next thing! After all, you are busy, and you do have a lot to do. When you notice these thoughts and feelings, gently acknowledge them and then return your attention to your food. If eating mindfully for the entire meal does not seem doable, try it for 5 minutes. You can also sit mindfully with a cup of coffee or tea.
There are many benefits of mindful eating; some people use it as a weight-management tool or to help them change an unhealthy relationship with food. Stay tuned for future posts on the topic. If you are really drawn to mindful eating, practice as much as you can. There are also some nice books on the topic, including Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung.