Eating is a natural, human function that is necessary for our sustenance and survival, yet in our drive-thru, microwaved, food-obsessed culture, eating has become a mindless, on-the-run activity. The very act of eating has become mixed up with over-indulgence, obsession, and self-imposed guilt. But in a world of mindless eating, there a solution for resolving this troubled love-hate relationship with food.
What is mindful eating?
In mindfulness, we deliberately pay attention to and are fully aware of what is happening both inside and outside of ourselves. We pay attention to our body and our mind, as well as our immediate environment, and we do so without judgement or criticism.
By applying mindfulness at meal times, we can learn to be present by simply being aware of what we are eating. In our distracted, fast-paced society, we have lost sight of how to really enjoy our food without the guilt of overindulgence. Yet, when we practice eating mindfully, we can reawaken our pleasure the simple act of eating and drinking.
To eat mindfully, both our mind and body are engaged in the choosing, preparing and eating of food. All of the senses are involved, immersing us in the colors, textures, aromas and flavors as we eat and drink. Mindful eating allows us to examine our responses to what we consume and our inner cues for hunger and satisfaction.
Guilt and food
Mindful eating is not based on the guilt, shame or anxiety that has sadly become associated with eating in these modern times. Rather, it places an emphasis on the actual choices that are in front of you and on your direct experiences of eating and drinking. There is no diet plan, calorie counting or scales. Instead, it is directed by your own inner experiences, where self-criticism is replaced with self-compassion.
The skill of mindful eating is something anyone can cultivate, requiring faithful, diligent practice. Through this practice, you can escape from the unhappiness and dissatisfaction related to food, in exchange for the joy and pleasure in eating that is your human birthright.
The “first bite” experience
When we take a bite of a cherished food, let’s say dark chocolate, that first bite is delicious as it gently melts in your mouth. Then you take a second bite, and then a third and a fourth. With each bite, the flavor of the chocolate diminishes more and more. If we are distracted while we eat, such as eating at our desks, while watching television, or merely lost in thought, the flavor can disappear altogether. An entire meal can be gone without any more taste than a bite or two.
Meanwhile, the stomach becomes full, yet unsatisfied. And when we are not satisfied, we go looking for more to eat. But we don’t have to give in to overindulgence, or lose that “first bite” experience when we eat mindfully. Here are five ways to bring a little mindfulness to mealtime:
Five Ways to Eat Mindfully
1. Honor the food
At mealtimes, turn off the television and put away the cellphones. If you are eating with others, work together to prepare the meal and set the table. Moreover, be thankful for your food, and express gratitude for those who prepared the meal, for the farmers that grew your vegetables, and for the sun that makes them grow. During your meal, avoid dwelling on work duties or other issues, and refrain from arguing. Make sure you are chewing on your food and not your frustrations.
2. Engage the senses
As you eat, notice the sounds, colors, smells and textures and pay attention to your responses to them. With each bite, take notice of the taste, as though it was the first bite. The more you engage all six senses as you eat, you will notice how this increases your enjoyment of the food.
3. Chew your food
Consciously taking small bites and chewing them thoroughly can help slow down your meal as well as allow you to fully experience the taste of the food. Thorough chewing also helps to improve digestion, since the process of breaking down our food begins in the mouth. Chew eat bite about 20 to 40 times, ensuring the food is liquified in your mouth.
4. Eat slowly
By eating slowly, you are more likely to notice when you are feeling pleasantly full so that you can stop before you eat too much. Pause between bites to fully engage your senses, maintain a grateful mindset, and bring awareness to you body’s responses.
5. Don’t skip meals
When we are consumed with hunger, we are inclined to grab whatever is convenient, rather than choosing foods that nourish and energize our bodies. Eat your meals around the same time each day to help your body settle into a consistent rhythm. Finally, give yourself enough time to fully savor your food so that you are aware of all the sensory delights your meals have to offer.
Mindful eating is an ancient mindfulness practice with profound modern implications and applications for resolving unhappy relationships with food. If you are ready to redefine your relationship with food, please contact me here.