Day 21: Food – nourishing you mindfully

Integrating mindfulness into daily life doesn’t always mean long hours of meditative practice – or even sitting still. Of course, you can always choose to increase quiet mindfulness, not least because like in the case of stress reduction, the actual time spend might easily be compensated for by the potential for having to undo things done ‘in the heat of the moment’. Similarly, many people find that a small morning meditation or body scan can increase their productivity during the day – and they often find it easier to focus on what really matters. But, you can also build mindfulness moments into activities you do every day. Today is one of these: eating.

Food is something very important to us as human beings, after all, without enough ‘fuel’ we can’t exist. Nevertheless, often, food becomes subordinate to schedules and stress. Eating quickly while trying to do something else, eating a quick snack rather than a healthy and nourishing meal, grabbing things that are convenient, rather than food that we want. All these are just too common. The result: many health problems related to bad food choices, from obesity to cancer, heart disease and bad sleep. The list of terrible consequences of putting the wrong things into our body is just as long and terrifying as the list of potential consequences from too much stress. In fact, both are, of course, very related – and often increase the effect of each other. A possible solution? Mindful eating.

Mindful eating, simply put, means being present in the moment of eating. Don’t have your mind wander off and think about what you do after your lunch break. Don’t think about how you could have handled the meeting in the morning better. Instead be present in the moment: and specifically focus on the moment and the food you are eating.

The easiest practice in the beginning is to do this if you have lunch (or other food) alone. While people around are often very relaxing and nice, and their effect can indeed be calming and relaxing, for mindful food practice, especially in the beginning, many people find that other people tend to occupy their mind and take away from the eating experience. However, once you have you have established and trained your mind to be more present during eating, I’d suggest that you can easily extend your mindful presence to other people around you. This can add even more enjoyment to the moment. But please, for the moment, try and perform the activity on your own.

For today, take one meal or snack and eat it mindfully. This could be a packed or bought lunch or just an afternoon snack, a dinner or breakfast. Either will work. Just make sure you are alone, in a quiet environment and without the radio or TV on (or any other disturbance).

1. To start, take three deep breaths once you have the food ready. Focus on your breath and bring your mind to the present.

2. Once you are in the present, start eating the food: Do this with much attention to the sensations the food is causing. Pay attention to the smell, the taste, and feel of the food.

3. Once you have finished the food, take another three deep breaths.

How does it feel to eat in this way? Most people notice how different food tastes and smells when eaten mindfully. The truth though is, that it isn’t just the taste and smell that is different: the longer term benefits of eating more mindfully are immense: often people feel more satisfied with their food, leading to them eating less. They choose foods more wisely, eating healthier and, of course, the simple mindfulness moment of eating, is often found to reduce stress and anxiety after finishing the food.

Please share below, in the comment section, how you are feeling after eating mindfully – or your experiences related to mindful eating!

Bacalhau – powering GayPortugal for 500 years

Love it or love it… there is no way you’ll escape Bacalhau in Portugal (yes, even if you go vegan, you can still get Bacalhau à Bras – in vegan form!). Agreed, the dried stuff you find in supermarkets and shops is probably not the most appealing in the unprepared form… it is a little smelly, hard and just not exactly great to look at. However, once gently brought back to life… things are different. It come to life in so many forms that it is virtually impossible not to love one, two or all of them. But even better than a nicely prepared bacalhau, it is a thoroughly healthy ingredient, too. Bacalhau is high on B-vitamins (especially B-6 and B12), niacin, omega-3 fatty acids… and protein. Quite a power pack!

To prepare it, you first need to water it for 24-36 hours. Change the water a few times during this time – and don’t smell the water (yes, I made a friend smell it … and she was very skeptical about what on earth I was trying to feed her. Bad start!). Once, it is de-salted you can use it in many different ways – essentially like fresh fish, just with a bit more taste.

Over Christmas, I made Bacalhau Com Natas for some friends, which is essentially bacalhau cooked in cream. I actually exchanged the cream for simple milk – and the result was much “lighter” and equally nice. This is a fairly simple recipe to follow if you want to try it. Remember, you don’t really need to go overboard with the cream if you are trying to recover from the Christmas period!

If you prefer your Bacalhau a little more “mediterranean” (with olive oil and olives), give Bacalhau à Bras a try… A simple and delicious recipe is this one. One trick with it: rather than spending lots of time cutting potatoes into little matchsticks and frying them, if you are in Portugal, buy “Batata Frita Palha”, ready-made fried matchstick potatoes. If you can’t get them and you still want to save yourself the trouble of over-chopping, simply use matchstick crisps (ready salted) or similar. The effect will be pretty much the same.

Other recipes to try: Nelson Carvalheiro’s Bacalhau, Croquettes from Bacalhau, … and a bunch more.

Bom apetite!