Commonly referred to as our “second brain,” our digestive systems are in charge of more than just digestion. Our emotional health is also directly impacted by what we eat. This means that choosing what we put into our bodies, being mindful about what we eat and how we eat, is one of the best forms of self-care we can do for ourselves. Using food as a means of self-care can positively impact our mindfulness and overall well-being.
To get started, be gentle with yourself and begin with simple awareness. What foods make you feel your best? What about food and eating makes you happy? How do you feel when you enjoy or prepare your favorite foods? What are some of your more positive experiences around food?
Start with a simple assessment of what brings you joy regarding food and come up with some ideas for using food as part of your self-care routine. Maybe it’s enrolling in a cooking class once a week, joining a supper club, or revamping your kitchen to be a place of comfort and creation.
Here are a few ideas on how to use food as a part of a practical self-care routine.
Take on a Challenge in the Kitchen
The act of creating can drastically improve your mood. Getting in the kitchen and playing around with new recipes can be a happy distraction to life’s more challenging moments. For some people, the kitchen is a sacred place where they can find solace in creating and tackling new challenges.
Don’t take for granted the joy that the simple act of making can bring. When we create something or overcome a challenge, it can bring about an overall sense of ownership, pride, and confidence. You can experience these positive feelings through food in several ways that might involve:
Browsing interesting cookbooks that inspire you
Trying a new type of cuisine that’s unfamiliar to you
Taking a cooking class to learn a new skill like bread baking or making pasta from scratch
Investing in some new kitchen tools and gadgets like an immersion blender or stand mixer
Share Meals with Others
Did you know that there are many social, biological, and psychological benefits of eating meals with others? When we connect with others over food, it can bring about a sense of harmony and well-being that’s good for our mental health, and even digestion. In fact, it’s been shown that we digest our food better when we’re relaxed and in a state of enjoyment. Enjoyment signals to the parasympathetic nervous system to trigger its relaxation response and since your stomach is a muscle, it gets relaxed too. The result? Better digestion. We feel better. Food truly is a form of self-care in so many ways.
Spending time with others around food doesn’t just have to be about eating together. If you have a best friend or family member who makes you happy, invite them over to make a recipe together. Put on a pot of coffee, turn up the music, and create something together. And if you can’t physically be with someone you enjoy, there’s always video chat. Make it a game or competition of making the same recipe together while on video chat and compare the results or just cook and chat.
Other ways to incorporate the ones we love into our self-care routine might be through gift giving. Studies shows that when we give, our brain releases endorphins and that the very act of giving may reduce stress and anxiety. A big part of taking care of ourselves is managing stress, so when you need a little boost of endorphins, consider making time to craft some homemade treats for neighbors, friends or co-workers.
Eat with your Senses
Enjoying food as part of a self-care routine doesn’t necessarily mean slamming down a box of chocolate frosted donuts every day. The very opposite is true. It’s about reframing food as a nourishing experience for the senses. Mindful eating begins with engaging the senses.
When we eat with our senses, we take the time to savor our food. From the aesthetic of the food on the plate to the texture of the food on our tongue, we rely on all our senses when eating. To become more aware of the taste of your food and enhance the enjoyment, slow down when eating. Take bites slowly and chew thoroughly, noticing every flavor of the food. Sometimes smelling food before we eat it can enhance how we enjoy meals as it activates the salivary gland before we even take a bite. Finally, remove all distractions when eating. Put away your phone, turn off the tv, and shut down your computer. When you focus solely on the act of eating, you’d be surprised how mindful you can become around the food you eat. In turn, we become more in tune to our satiety and level of fullness.
Our senses can also trigger happy memories. If the smell of curry reminds you of your grandmother or the scent of star anise brings back happy holiday moments with family, try making a recipe that can activate those mood boosting memories.
Journal your Feelings
If you’d like to be more mindful when eating to improve your physical health, a journal can help you set and track your goals as you incorporate this form of self-care into your life. Set intentions and record these in a journal.
Invest time in the food you make; take care to prepare food in ways that you actually enjoy. For instance, if you want to try to eat more vegetables, instead of eating raw carrots, prepare them in a way that is more palatable to your taste. Maybe roast the carrots to caramelize them and eat tossed in a salad.
And remember, food doesn’t have morality. Labeling foods as “good” or “bad” can affect your enjoyment of all foods. Instead, view all foods as equal opportunities to add enjoyment and nourishment to our mind and bodies.
Is your kitchen a space in which you enjoy spending time? Take the time to declutter your kitchen and reorganize it to be a place that brings you happiness. You’d be surprised at what a little organization and rearranging can do for your mood.
To get started, identify your pain points. Do you always get frustrated that you can’t find the spices you need? Is there a bottle of olive oil that always gets knocked down when you reach for the flour? Do you even know where half of your baking supplies are? Are your pots and pans in a tangled mess of metal?
Consider these helpful ideas for organizing your kitchen to reduce stress and cut the clutter:
Place a lazy Susan on your countertop to organize commonly used spices and utensils to have on hand
Store your stand mixer attachments in the mixing bowl
Use command hooks to hang the lids to pots and pans
Empty dry goods into clear containers to remove box clutter
Buy storage lid organizers to store food storage containers
Create a coffee station equipped with all coffee related items (coffee maker, filters, sugar, spoons, etc.); hang coffee mugs to save space