Living with any chronic condition including diabetes can be physically and emotionally overwhelming. When difficult emotions arise it’s perfectly normal to distract ourselves through work, exercising, binge eating, drinking or anything that comforts and avoids having to face the emotions. This pattern is quite common among diabetes patients sadly directly impacting their blood sugar levels.
While avoiding uncomfortable emotions may help to feel better in the short-term, such strategies just push negative feelings further into the psyche causing detrimental effects in the long run. This is because negative thoughts or feelings block you from experiencing life. For example, you may be over exercising or over working to avoid thinking about how diabetes is affecting you emotionally and physically. By doing this, not only are you robbing yourself of precious time with family and friends, you could be using some of that time for self-care to manage your diabetes. It may be that the intention to “eat well” is there, but because you are “busy,” food is eaten on the go. These are often not the wisest choices. Eating wrong foods builds up stress levels adding to the negative feelings that we are avoiding, making the whole cycle a viscous one.
According to ancient wisdom from Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, the state of your emotions when you are eating is more important than the food itself. If you are feeling guilty or stressed even before you are about to eat, the negative emotions build up and get worse. On the other hand If you relish the moment by enjoying seeing, tasting, touching, and smelling each bite of food, your body has the “five-senses” experience leaving you feeling satisfied and preventing you from grabbing that bar of chocolate or another glass of wine.
Mindfulness is about paying attention on purpose, in the present moment in a non-judgmental way, to what are you are experiencing, including your thoughts, emotions, and physical feelings. The goal of mindfulness is not to force anything but to allow yourself space to notice your present experience, that includes what you are eating.
Here is a mindful eating exercise I would like to share with you to help you get started at eating mindfully. Full awareness can help you make decisions that impact your mental and physical well being positively.
Before you start to eat, take a moment to check in with your body and emotions. What does your your body need? How hungry are you? Do you need warm food or cold food? Are you craving savoury or sweet food?
Now that you have decided what your body needs and have the prepared or bought the food, before you have your first bite take a moment to be thankful for it. This could be imagining all the people that have been involved in preparing the food or how the ingredients got here. This is very powerful in shifting gears in your mind even before you eat. Perhaps this is why every culture has a ritual to bless food before meals.
Now, take a moment to observe the food, really engage with what you see. Do you see the colours? How delicious does it look? Our sense of seeing heightens the experience of eating.
Next really engage with the smell of the food. What can you smell? Is it strong or fragrant? Does it make you feel hungry? Is your mouth watering?
Now take a bite and notice the texture of the food in your mouth. Can you feel any sensations on your tongue? Is warm? Spicy? Sweet? Is it chewy or slippery?
Now focus your attention on the taste. Let the food sit on your tongue while you really engage with the flavour and sensations. You can pretend you are a food critic, see how many accents of taste or texture you can observe. Repeat this exercise with a few more bites to engage your senses and help you feel more in tune with your eating experience and aware of your body and emotions.
Being mindful is not as easy as it looks; in fact it requires practice and experience. Being mindful with diabetes can be even harder but certainly not impossible. When we are rushing around on autopilot it can be difficult to pay attention to any experience in the present moment so stepping back from being busy to tune into the emotional and physical needs of your body is critical to manage your diabetes. It’s also very important as part of your self-care that you stop judging yourself and beating yourself up over a high or low blood sugar level but instead focus that energy to influence a positive outcome for better well being and happiness.
Mindfulness is not a quick fix but it could be your best friend to help you manage difficult diabetes-related emotions. Mindfulness needs to be practiced and experienced to retrain your brain to enjoy every single bit of food – this in itself can make a huge difference to your health and happiness.