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One Mindful Bite, Everybody Knows the Rules

7 Jul 2017

If you haven’t seen BarStool Sports pizza reviews which features the catchphrase “one bite everybody knows the rules,” the rules are quite simple - The host tours around to various pizza places in New York City, takes a bite of a slice (typically several) and gives the pizza a rating on a scale of 1-to-10. It’s fairly hilarious and the catchphrase is well…catchy. I say it before the vast majority of my meals now which has led my fiancée to reconsider eating with me and potentially marriage in general.

 

Inspired by the show I thought I’d share my rules for mindful eating. The concept behind each rule is about much more than just mindful eating. As will be described, each rule can be applied to the world of sports and more broadly life. Follow these rules and you can potentially become a more mindful athlete and individual.

 

That’s my cue – “One mindful bite, everybody knows the rules.”

 

Rule #1 – Savor Each Bite

Three years ago I attended a 7-day mindfulness meditation training at the Omega Institute in Upstate New York. During the third day we were asked to engage in a “silent lunch.” This essentially meant going to the dining hall, getting my food from the buffet, and sitting with a bunch of relative strangers in silence while I ate. Sounds fantastic right?

 

As I walked into the dining hall, several worry based thoughts filled my mind – “What if this is awkward?” “Who am I going to sit with?” “Do other people think I look uncomfortable” “How am I not going to talk for this amount of time?” Distracted by my self-focused worry, I quickly grabbed some oatmeal, threw on a few toppings and rushed to a nearby table. And there I was in silence, eating my oatmeal.

 

Although initially uncomfortable, I eventually settled into the moment. I began to slow down and savor each bite. I even went to the great lengths of putting down my spoon between each bite. Sure my mind wandered but with practice I was able to rest in the full experience of eating. I distinctly remember one moment my mind wandered and the thought came up - “Wow this oatmeal would really be good with some raisins. I can’t believe they didn’t have any raisins up there at the buffet.” And wouldn’t you know it, on my way out I passed by the buffet and there they were – a bowl full of raisins! Distracted by worry and intent on hurrying to find a seat I missed them earlier when getting my breakfast.   

 

My point here is that so much is lost when we rush through life, caught up in our own worrying mind.  Most importantly, we miss out on experiencing and enjoying the things that are right there in front of us. Sure, missing out on having raisins in your oatmeal is minor but what if it is your experiences with teammates, your child’s sporting event, or your time with friends, parents, and significant others. I used to see this years and years ago when I worked at a place called the Little Gym (yes, I worked there and sang all the little songs). Parents would host birthday parties and rather than actually experience the birthday party they would be incredibly distracted with worry about each and every detail because little Timmy’s birthday had to be flawless. Turns out Timmy does not care if the cake is cut into perfectly equal squares.

 

Okay tangent over…throughout the course of an athletic season there are so many memorable moments to experience. However, if you are frequently tuned into anxiety radio it can be easy to miss out on them. By practicing mindful eating, you can train yourself to better tune into the present moment and more fully enjoy the journey. Next time you eat – eliminate all distractions (i.e. turn off the tv, phone) and turn on your attention to what you are eating. Practice noticing when your mind wanders, when it does note where it has gone, and then just gently return your attention to the process of eating. Uses your senses to fully experience the taste, smell, texture, appearance, and sound of each bite.

 

Rule #2 – Check in on sensations of hunger and fullness

It is important for athletes to listen to the messages their bodies are sending to them. Athletes attuned to their bodily sensations gain the insight and understanding needed to thrive in competitive environments. They are better able to know when they may require medical attention and/or rest, and on the flip side when they can push themselves to another level. Most athletes I know that have maintained long-term careers have mastered knowing when it is okay to continue plugging away and when it is time to stop or pullback. Most just frequently ask a simple question “What is my body telling me right now?”

 

You can take a similar approach towards eating. Ask yourself – “how hungry am I” on a scale of 1-to-10 before, during, and after meals with 1 equaling “starved” and 10 equaling “stuffed”. This can be a particularly effective technique midway through a meal. Call it an “eating halftime.” Take a few moments to slow down, step back and notice your sensations of hunger. Have they changed since the beginning of the meal? Are you experiencing any discomfort? Do you notice starting to full? Do you still feel hungry or maybe slightly hungry?  Ask yourself - Am I eating just because there is more food in front of me?

 

You may also want to check in on how your body feels when taking in different types of foods. For example, what does your body feel like during and after eating fast food versus a healthier option?

 

Listen to your body on a regular basis and you will begin to better understand the wants and needs of your body perhaps not only as it pertains to eating but also other aspects of your life such as when engaging in sports and exercise.

 

Rule #3 - Every meal does not have to be an All-Star…Be Compassionate

I used to have this bad habit (up until realizing it while writing this article) in which I felt like every meal needed to be the best meal of my life. Trying to decide what to eat for dinner became far too important. I mulled over each meal decision like I was a General Manager trying to decide which potential franchise player to draft. Turns out drafting a healthy salad for dinner is not an easy selection and when I made an unhealthy food choice I would be very hard on myself.

 

Fact is, some meals will be healthier than others and you will eat mindlessly at times but you cannot expect to always be perfect. In a similar way, an athlete is not going to play flawlessly. There will be errors, dropped balls, missed shots, false starts, etc. This is why it is important to develop compassion. Being compassionate entails treating oneself and others with kindness, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness. The compassionate person is able to learn, grow, and respond adaptively to mistakes rather than get bogged down by self-criticism. In a culture obsessed with solutions and perfection we often fail to have compassion for and acknowledge the humanness of the struggle. To help build self-compassion think about what you would say to a close friend when he or she is struggling, and see if you can speak to yourself in the same way.

 

Rule #4 –Stay Prepared

Elite athletes and successful teams prepare for all aspects of competition. Preparation takes place in practice, workouts, off-season training, team meetings, etc. In doing so, athletes are working on being able to excel even when the circumstances are not optimal and filled with pressure. Preparing for those moments is not an easy task and neither is maintaining a healthy diet/mindful eating. After all, similar to sports, life is full of moments that test our commitment.

 

There are holidays….. How do I not have a hot dog on July 4th?

 

There are nights out for dinner with friends and family…. I am pretty full but everybody else is getting dessert, so I guess I should get something?

 

There are stressful days at work….. I worked hard today I deserve a treat, don’t I?

 

There’s Sunday football….How do I not eat an entire large pie?

 

There are time demands…. There’s no time for anything but fast food right?

 

It is true that the twists and turns of life can happen unexpectedly. However, it is also true that there are several moments we can prepare for. For example, if you have a tendency to mindlessly eat unhealthy snacks after a stressful day, keep those snacks out of sight (e.g. in the back of cabinets) and other healthier snacks within reach. If you tend to overeat while dining out, have a small snack before you go. Restricting food to save up calories before a night of dining out is often an ineffective strategy.  

 

Fact is, whether it is in life or sports staying committed to your goals and being able to perform when it counts requires preparation. 

 

So there you have it - "One mindful bite, everybody knows the rules" 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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