A Calm Mind at a Busy Workplace
by Caroline Baerten, MA, RD
From Food for Thought: Mindful Eating at Work, available in our Food for Thought Store
“I can only eat in a mindful way when I’m relaxed and on vacation. ”
Have you ever heard this before? At work, when they may be overwhelmed and distracted, many people feel that they are somehow controlled by an automatic pilot who decides what, when, and how they eat.
Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh describes mindfulness as “the energy of being awake to the present moment." This definition means that the
energy of awareness is not dependent on the context of where we work or live. Mindfulness is the continuous practice of touching life deeply, in every moment of the day. We are mindful when we are truly at one with what we are doing, when we do it consciously and with focus. When we answer a phone call, for example, and put all of our attention into the call, or when we talk to our boss about a project and put all other considerations on hold during the discussion. And when we eat, well…we simply eat, we don’t juggle emails or files or errands while we do.
| Mindfulness is the continuous practice of touching life deeply, in every moment of the day.
Although the context of a white, sandy beach and still, blue sea is much different than a busy workplace, we actually do very much the same things at both: walking, sitting, talking, and eating. And yet on vacation we notice the different spices in a dish, while at work we gulp down our food in front of the computer. The act of eating is the same, but it seems that there are different mental states at work. Would it be possible, then, to learn—no matter how relaxing or stressful the environment might be—to eat, to sit, and to work with concentration, with the full awareness that we are doing it? We could practice mindfulness and mindful eating throughout every moment of the day, not just when "the perfect conditions" are available.
1. Bringing balance between “being” and “doing” mode
At work it is especially easy to find ourselves distracted by everything that calls for our attention. Instead of mindlessly reacting to each of these environmental triggers, we should cultivate stillness and the awareness of two aspects—what’s going on around us and what’s going on within us. Mindful eating at work means being consciously present in what we’re doing, while we’re doing it, as well as monitoring our physical, mental, and emotional states. Mindfulness at work helps us become focused on single tasks, including setting aside some quality time for a lunch break without the mobile phone, newspaper, or computer nearby.
2. Switching off the automatic pilot
We each have deeply ingrained eating habits, an automatic pilot that tell us what, how, and when we want to eat. Waking up to the present moment will help us recognize and embrace conditioned patterns which are good for us and to let go of those which prevent us from making healthy choices. On automatic pilot, we might reach for any food that’s within reach. Off of automatic pilot, we pause to consider our choices.
3. Slowing down and centering
| Even one minute of consciously connecting with our senses and the food on our plate can be classified as “a mindful exercise.”
A recurring theme in our world seems to be, “I don’t have time when at work.” Luckily, the energy of mindfulness is available anywhere and anytime. Even one minute of consciously connecting with our senses and the food on our plate can be classified as “a mindful exercise.” During times of stress, slowing down for a minute and connecting with the physical act of eating can help to rebalance our nervous system. Instead of numbing ourselves with comfort foods, eating itself can help us wake up to the sensory joy of tasting food and the need to show compassionate care for ourselves.
From Food for Thought: Mindful Eating at Work, available in our Food for Thought StoreCaroline Baerten (Belgium) is a mindfulness-based nutritionist/RD, qualified chef, and integrative psychotherapist who specializes in work with disturbed eating behavior and nutrition ecology. In her centre MeNu, in Brussels, she offers Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Mindful Self-Compassion, and Mindful Eating, Conscious Living courses. She has served on the TCME Board since 2013.
She welcomes comments to this article and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org