Whether we call it flow, zen, or mindfulness, present-moment awareness can show us how to eat and live.
Living in a state of flow—a term coined by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his classic book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience—becomes about finding balance between challenge and comfort.
“Flow happens when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges,” Csíkszentmihalyi explains. “If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills.”
Flow means being so infatuated with the present moment that all sense of ego subsides as a playful, focused consciousness overcomes and completes us.
We’ve all probably felt this when we get involved in something we love. Painters, pianists, writers, and other artists describe the same process. We don’t even need to be artists to understand flow. Think about a magical moment when we’re playing with our children or talking with a great friend. Time falls away and we are simply there. That’s flow.
So what does flow have to do with eating and living healthy? Well, everything. When we’re in flow, we relax and aren’t so focused on being perfect that we miss out on life.
As a medical doctor, I know the road to healing takes many twists and turns. Sometimes it gets bumpy. Emotional, mental, and physical pain becomes part of healing. In those situations, sometimes we need to fall off the wagon to get back on.
Our bodies are innately wired to heal. From that understanding, we can trust that our body knows what to eat, in the right amounts, and at the right pace.
I don’t eat perfectly all the time. Then again, what I consider perfect means something different than conventional wisdom’s understanding of “perfect.” Eating well means providing my body the nutrition it needs so that I can be my best and savor life, which keeps me in flow.
Rather than being incredibly stringent and then beating ourselves up later, we can flow with eating, particularly during social occasions where we might be a little more relaxed. The next time we fall off the wagon, these five strategies can help us get back into flow.
- Return to basics. So many of my patients approach eating as all-or-nothing extremes. People commonly rationalize their motives for straying from their diet protocol because something “off limits” slipped in at a family party or event. Or maybe a stressful morning or afternoon led us to indulge in potentially inflammatory food. Don’t let a “stray moment” get blown out of proportion. Get right back on track with basics like healthy fats, high-fiber, and protein-rich whole foods.
- Make eating healthy a no-brainer. Make 50 to 75 percent of our plate an array of colorful vegetables. Toss all packaged and convenience foods. Eat a meal or snack high in protein, and healthy fats every three to four hours. Remove all refined flours and unnecessary sweeteners. Avoid all potential food sensitivities and allergens, especially gluten and dairy.
- Think ahead. The ultimate way to keep ourselves on the wagon (or give ourselves a boost if we do fall off), is to have a plan, account for prep work, and proceed until we see the moment through. If we go to a restaurant, a Google search beforehand can help keep us calm so our company gets more of our attention than the menu.
- Keep an emergency kit. An emergency food kit with blood sugar stabilizing foods can help us in numerous precarious travel situations. When I leave home, I usually bring some of the following:
>> An ice pack and a small cooler
>> Almonds or walnuts
>> Can of sardines
>> Hummus, tahini, or cashew butter in a one ounce salad dressing container for easy storage
>> Carrots, sugar snap peas, or other stable veggies
>> An apple
>> Dark chocolate, 70 percent or higher
In any situation, the possibility to upgrade our food choices exists. We can optimize nutrition. We always have choices!
- Let go of perfectionism. Don’t let a good moment pass due to fear, anxiety, or guilt around not being perfect. This negative mindset actually fuels chronic inflammation more than eating a single, small portion of a recreational food. When we are on a break, we should give ourselves a break!
Finding flow rather than beating ourselves up or completely surrendering to junk becomes the key to balanced, happy, healthy eating and living. What one strategy would you add to find and maintain flow? Share yours below or on my Facebook page.
Author: Mark Hyman
Editor: Nicole Cameron