Have you ever sat down to eat a bag of chips, a piece of cake or even an entire meal, gotten to the bottom of the bag, package, or plate and thought “I ate all that?!”

You may find yourself eating this way a lot of the time, in fact.In today’s stressful world of multi-tasking where your Blackberry and iPhone are never far away, your laptop is always within arm’s reach, and there is always something more important to do than nourishing your body, it’s too easy to lose awareness, to not be present during mealtimes.

If we are honest, it is too easy to lose that feeling of being present in day-to-day life activities not to mention eating.

This week’s challenge code word:: Awareness 

I’m sure many of you think I have totally lost touch with reality about now.  “How can I possibly give more attention to the way I eat when I don’t even have more time to devote to eating?”.

Believe me, I get it.  I understand that life is so busy there’s no time to breathe but hear me when I say, lack of awareness affects not only your food intake but your whole take on life.

If you have ever sunken into a hot bath or cool swimming pool and felt an instant state of relaxation or gotten a burst of energy listening to an inspirational song then you have experienced the power of awareness.

In week 1 we talked about the importance of taking time, slowing down to really savor the process of eating.  In week 2 we delved into the importance of making everything you eat the best quality you can possibly find.  Both of those activities do a lot to deliver the best most potent forms of nourishment to the body.

Awareness takes it to the next level.

The Cephalic Phase Digestive Response (CPDR) is not new to you if you follow our posts.  Basically, digestion begins in the brain (as the Japanese say “The eyes eat first!”) and is responsible for 30% to 40% of the actual process of digestion.  Smelling food can stimulate chemical and mechanical receptors in the nose and on the tongue while thinking about food initiates saliva and other digestive enzyme secretions such as pancreatic enzymes (trypsin, amylase, and lipase to name a few), gastric acid and increases blood flow to the stomach, gut and other digestive organs to begin contraction so vital for good digestion.  It also regulates electrolyte concentrations within the GI tract to prepare it for the impending meal.

What happens when you scarf down that bag of potato chips without thought??  The CPDR can’t activate those all important responses which means not only impaired digestion but also reduced nutrient absorption and lowered metabolism. By not being aware of those potato chips you are shoveling into your mouth your digestion is running on maximum 70% capacity.

Awareness i.e being present during meals switches you from a sympathetic (stressed) to parasympathetic (relaxed) state which means digestion is optimized.  Lack of awareness generally means we are attempting to multi-task which generally means our minds and bodies are in a stressed state.  As I have said many times, stress tells your body a tiger is chasing it and it needs to run or fight.  It is in survival mode.  Digestion is secondary to survival therefore not an essential process.

Have you ever eaten while not paying attention and noticed that even after finishing your meal you are still hungry but your stomach felt overly full??

Awareness is sensual experience.  When you are aware, your body can experience pleasure, taste, smell, sight, and, with some cuisines, even touch.  In short, it can register satisfaction.  If the body is allowed to experience satisfaction it will fuel digestion, assimilation, and metabolism.

In a sense when the body doesn’t “remember” eating it will keep telling you “Eat something stupid!!”  Usually that something will involve lower quality quick fixes which will trigger a cycle of poor digestion because low quality also signals the body to keep eating in order to fulfill its nutrition requirements.

You are what you think.

The CPDR can also trigger an insulin response even when nothing is eaten.  When carbohydrates are consumed the body releases insulin to help use that “sugar” for cellular metabolism.  When there is too much insulin, however, it can signal the body to store fat and slow down muscle growth.

One of the main reasons I am a big believer in taking pleasure from the food you eat and, barring any health reason why eliminating an entire food group would be wise, making no food completely off limits if you really love it, is because when food becomes “forbidden” it becomes a point of obsession.  When foods, especially foods like pastry, cakes or chocolate become obsessions they are constant fantasies which activate the CPDR consistently and will chronically activate the insulin response.  This raises insulin levels artificially signaling the body to store more fat because when no carbohydrates are present the insulin must serve some process and if that purpose isn’t the dispensation of sugar it must revert to its secondary function.

At the risk of beating a dead horse I am not suggesting eating a whole cake or box of doughnuts in one sitting.  I am suggesting you stop assigning foods to your “forbidden” list and enjoy them sane amounts, make them the highest quality possible, and eat them slowly; savoring them and being aware of them with all of your senses.

Essentially, this week’s challenge is to be aware of your food. Enjoy cooking your meal, being aware of every ingredient, aware of how your food is plated, and, when you sit down, savor every bite, being present in the moment, not having two conversations at once or attempting to break up your 5 and 6 year old’s argument about whose fork is touching whose spoon,  trying to type that email or read the report from work.  Bring your awareness to the sensuality of nourishing your body.

Notice how much different your digestion becomes when you combine the processes of slowing down, eating high quality foods, and being aware of eating.

Do you notice yourself “checking out” when you eat?  Do you notice a difference when you practice mindful eating?  What are your experiences with awareness?