Food for Your Thought: What Is the Connection Between Mind and Body?
In a joint symposium, the Alumni Relations Office and the Nutrition Program at LAU offer one-on-one dietary consultations and review the relationship of today’s generation with food.
From the global food market to the family dinner table, food plays an integral role in our daily lives and has the power to connect us. At the same time, the relationship between food and people has become more complex and dynamic, shaped by a wide range of historical, economic and environmental factors.
Accordingly, together with the Nutrition Program at LAU, the Alumni Relations Office sought to appraise the magnitude of the relationship between food and physical, social and mental wellbeing as cultivated by the emerging demographic of our present time.
Prior to the forum on food and mental health, booths lined the entrance of the LAU Adnan Kassar School of Business. Under the supervision of nutrition instructors Marwa Fadlallah and Marie Stephan, enrollees in the Nutrition and Dietetics Coordinated Program (CP) – which received candidacy for accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) – offered private counseling to students on matters pertinent to weight management and provided further clarification on the emotional approach to certain types of food.
A panel discussion by Assistant Professor of Nutrition Jana Jabbour and Senior Instructor of Psychology Loulwa Kaloyeros followed. Moderated by Associate Professor of Food Science and Technology Hussein F. Hassan, under the title Mindful Eating: Strengthen Your Relationship With Food, the discussion tackled questions on the cognitive side of the mind’s relationship with food, a few of which are presented below.
How has the pandemic changed the way we approach food?
The pandemic has undoubtedly impacted the way we not only look at food but also consume it. Before the pandemic, we tried to elevate food to a level where it was more appealing rather than faster to produce. We made our food pleasurable to the eye, the nose and especially the palate, and when the pandemic affected our senses of smell and taste, it also took away the delight that is accompanied by the pleasant sight of the meal itself. COVID-19-related stress and isolation under lockdown also drove us to snack mindlessly to pass the time. Consuming food was no longer about enjoying a meal but rather a distraction.
How can eating be mindful?
The term in and of itself implies a state of mind in which we are focused on what we are doing at that moment. If we focus on and consider what we are saying, we are being mindful. If we are aware of our physical surroundings, we are being mindful. If we are somewhere physically but our thoughts are elsewhere, then we are not being mindful. Therefore, we must pay close attention to the experience of eating, including the sensations of taste, texture and smell, as well as the thoughts and emotions that arise in relation to food.
What is the added value of mindful eating?
Mindful eating allows us to develop a more intentional relationship with food, which can lead to a greater sense of enjoyment and satisfaction. We are lucky to be living in a world with myriad types of food of different shapes, colors, ingredients and sizes, but every now and then, we must stop and think about and appreciate the acquisition and consumption of this food. Did we play a role in making it? Did we buy it? If so, where did we buy it from? If not, then where did it come from? Where was it planted, grown, or harvested, and under what conditions? Consider, for instance, that the production of coffee takes several years from planting the tree until the coffee beans are ready for harvest. The seedlings usually take three to four years to mature before the tree starts producing fruit.
What are the principles of mindful eating then?
Among the numerous principles of mindful eating, we should be cognizant of what we are eating, especially in a digital age where people are becoming easily distracted and more disconnected from food. We must also be responsive and aware of what our body is telling us about what it needs. To practice mindful eating, it is essential to heed the body’s signals of hunger and fullness, employ our senses while eating, be alert to potential emotional triggers on our eating patterns, cultivate an attitude toward food that is devoid of self-criticism and foster a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the food being consumed.
Can mindfulness heal our relationship with food? If so, how?
While mindfulness will shift our perspective, it will not solve all our issues with food. Nowadays, the quantity of food almost always takes precedence over its quality. We heal our relationship with food by modifying our approach to it. Additionally, in our culture, food is used as a reward or punishment – oftentimes by parents, whether knowingly or unknowingly – and therein lies the issue. When we offer food as a reward to stimulate desired behaviors or accomplishments from children and withhold it to discipline or control behavior, then we are not being mindful of the potential negative consequences of our actions.
The resounding success of the event, evidenced by the good turnout, highlighted the interest in cultivating mindful eating as a lifestyle. Organizers and students alike learned from the panel that a heightened awareness of our body is a major component of how mindfulness promotes healthier behaviors, a message to carry for upcoming generations.