As our lives get busier, we sometimes rush through meals or become distracted by our phones or laptops while eating. This can lead to indigestion or overeating because we do not have enough time to really taste or chew our food, which enables us to pay attention to internal ques of fullness.
The Buddhist practice of mindfulness can help you slow down and eat with more thought. Mindfulness is all about cultivating awareness of the present moment and enhancing one’s consciousness. It’s about attending to the here and now, and acquiring an accepting, non-judgemental, curious and non-reactive attitude towards one’s self and one’s current circumstances.
Mindful eating is about being fully present when you eat. So when you eat mindfully, rather than gobbling your meal while looking at your phone or reading a magazine, you’re eating slowly and paying full attention to the appearance, smell, taste and texture of what you eat.
Flexitarianism is a mindful approach to eating because it increases our awareness around our food choices and makes us think about how what we eat affects our emotions, our overall health, and the wellbeing of our planet.
The term “flexitarian” caught on after Chicago-based dietician and author Dawn Jackson Blatner released her book “The Flexitarian Diet” in 2008. A combination of the words flexible and vegetarian, the flexitarian diet consists mainly of plant-based foods but also allows for the occasional meat-based dish. Since the publication of Blatner’s book, flexitarianism has flourished. More and more meat-lovers, grateful they needn’t give up burgers or steaks altogether, have made the conscious choice to reduce their meat intake in order to get healthier and also reduce their environmental footprint.
Because there are no hard and fast rules about which food groups or how many calories a flexitarian ought to consume, flexitarianism can perhaps be seen as more of a lifestyle choice than a diet per se. While there is plenty of room for variety, flexitarian eating is guided by certain principles. These include eating mainly vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fruits, eating predominantly plant-based proteins, limiting sugar and sweets, choosing natural over processed foods, and occasionally incorporating meat or animal products in a meal. If you’re looking to eat more healthily, but also more moderately and mindfully, flexitarianism is a great way to do it.
Some extreme diets can lower your metabolism, weaken your immune systems and comprise your health. More often than not, extreme diets fail because people end up getting hungry and quit their regimen. If your goal is to make lasting improvements to the way you eat, taking small steps that you can commit to works better than making quick fixes. If you’re trying to lose weight or wean yourself off meat or dairy, a restrictive diet can leave you feeling irritable and deprived, and these unpleasant feelings can in turn lead to binges on “no-go foods” that leave you feeling guilty and ashamed. That’s why it’s important to practice moderation when attempting to change your eating habits.
When eating moderately, you won’t need to eliminate certain food groups or deny yourself a naughty treat now and then. The goal of moderate eating is to avoid excessive consumption of any food, and flexitarianism supports this goal by steering you away from meat-rich, sugar-rich and processed-food-rich diets.
Flexitarianism takes into account the fact that we are all unique individuals with different lifestyles and personalities, and that our nutritional and caloric needs can vary from time to time. Flexitarian eating promotes an attitude of acceptance because it permits us to adjust our food choices based on our activity levels and emotional states.
For example, if you’ve just had a day of intense activity you may crave more of certain types of food than you would on a regular day. Flexitarianism encourages you to accept and respect these momentary cravings and to satisfy them in ways that are still healthy and good for you.
Carbohydrates, for instance, can help calm us down during times of stress or cheer us up if we’re feeling blue. On days when you feel more anxious and stressed than usual, when you’re cramming for exams or struggling with a big project at work, it is completely natural to crave more carbohydrate and sugar. A flexitarian diet makes room for such days, and hearty but healthy, carb-rich meals such as Arlene’s Chili Sin Carne with Rice or Bolognaise with Spaghetti can give you the comfort and calm that you seek.
SFGate journalist Ellen Swanson Topness writes, “If you choose to eat moderately, you are choosing to eat in the middle, where there is freedom. This freedom to eat what your body desires in the quantities it needs is an important concept in weight loss and health maintenance.” Arlene can give you more of this freedom plant-based dishes that taste as good, if not better than their meat-based counterparts. So meat-lovers can still satisfy their desires for meaty flavors, while continuing to reduce their meat intake.
Nutrition therapist Alissa Rumsey says, “Food is not all about the fiber or minerals a food may bring. It's also about taste and the happiness it brings.” Indeed, eating well doesn’t mean eating bland or boring foods. With a flexitarian diet, you can enjoy all the flavors you like without compromising on good nutrition. If you want to learn to slow down and savor everything you eat, and if you want to develop healthier dining habits, flexitarianism might be just right for you.
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