Mindful Eating: Food for Thought, or Rather, Thought For Food
Oct 26, 2012 10:20PM
● By Jaclyn Downs
Let’s pause and think about what we ate for dinner last night. Some can visualize the meal in a split second, but others may need a moment to recall a few details, such as where they were or what time it was, before they can remember.
In our multi-tasking society, we tend to eat without paying much attention—eating is secondary to driving, conversations, television, social media, work or games. Eating as a mindless ritual often leads to overeating or a craving for more, because the food disappears off our plates more quickly than we realize.
While the old adage, “You are what you eat,” holds true, perhaps we should consider a new one, as well: “You are how you eat.” Giving full attention to our food and the act of eating allows for satisfaction without over-consuming. It also makes food more pleasurable.
In our fast-paced culture, we often bolt down meals, which contributes to the current prevalence of digestive maladies. Eating too quickly or neglecting to chew thoroughly deters proper digestion. Also, when we are stressed, upset or angry, we tend to make poor food choices and our bodies do not digest food well.
We can improve the impact of food on our health and well-being by simply becoming more mindful in our eating habits. That’s it: no diets, no restricting, no bland or boring foods; just mindful eating.
Tuning in to our bodies while we nurture ourselves brings numerous benefits. Eating mindfully creates an awareness of moment-to-moment appreciation and allows us to stop before discomfort sets in—paying attention allows our minds to connect with our bodies and better recognize the physiological signals for hunger and satiety. More subtle emotional cues may arise and we begin to discover that at times, our inner craving isn’t even for food.
While quietly contemplating the way the food affects us, we can begin to experience it more intensely, thus creating a more satisfying and complete experience. In addition to truly tasting it, we may think about the food’s aroma, how it feels in our mouths, where it came from, and perhaps even the people that played a part in producing it.
These five simple steps can help us begin eating mindfully.
Remove distractions. Turn off televisions, computers, social media and the like. Close books and magazines. Do not multi-task. Instead, eat in peace—not only in quietude, but in a calm manner, giving the food your full attention.
Savor the presentation. Before eating, take a moment to appreciate the arrangement of the food, noting its colors, textures and aromas, even if it is not a home-cooked or fancy meal. This step begins the art of mindful eating.
Start with baby steps. Change begins with awareness in the moment, and mindfulness towards anything takes time and discipline. At first, mindful eating, like meditation, may seem difficult, so start with small steps. Savor one bite or a single sip and then, perhaps, the first few minutes of a meal. Move on to dedicating one meal a week to silent eating in a pleasant atmosphere.
Eat slowly. Put down the fork between bites. This is probably the most important and useful tip for eating mindfully. Eating food with a utensil, especially chopsticks, slows down our eating and gives us time to chew our food, which aids digestion. Thorough chewing begins the process of breaking down proteins, fiber and fats, which eases the load on our digestive organs. When we take time to chew unhurriedly, we are able to notice the properties and sensations of the food in our mouths.
Share mindfulness at the table. Just because mindful eating is typically done in silence, doesn’t mean that it should be done alone. Humans are social beings, and we enjoy partaking in a meal with friends and family. Try focusing the conversation on the food; share what you are experiencing and enjoying.
As we begin to eat and drink more mindfully, we may gain a new perspective on food and a growing respect for how it can nourish or deplete us. We may even begin to change our food choices, shifting them towards wholesome quality, rather than quantity.
Practicing mindfulness enhances our focus on the present moment and can lead the way to greater satisfaction and gratitude for the small things in life—true nourishment that feeds genuine health and well-being.
Jaclyn Downs teaches workshops on topics related to food and wellness, holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from Drexel University and is a board-certified holistic health coach and a certified yoga instructor and birth doula. For more information, visit GetBalancedWellness.com.