Eating is an integral part of life. However, for many of us, we lead too busy of a life and end up having to rush through our meals just about anywhere we can: in front of the computer, behind the wheel, or while walking. Eating food has become more of an obligation and mindless task rather than an enjoyable, nourishing experience. We’re not fully aware of what we’re eating, and this lack of awareness may be contributing to obesity and other health issues. When it comes to the act of eating, what many of us could benefit from is the practice known as ‘mindful eating’.
Mindful eating, a concept with its roots in Zen Buddhist teachings, aims to reconnect us more deeply with the sensual awareness and experience of eating our food. It is a conscious way of eating with intention and attention: eating with the intention of caring for yourself and eating with the attention necessary to enjoy your food in its full presence. It begins with the first thought about food and lasts until the final bite is swallowed and the effects of the act are experienced.
The body carries a lot of knowledge and information, so when you apply mindfulness to the eating experience, you can start to make conscious choices rather than falling into emotion-driven habits. When you slow down and pay attention to how and what you eat, you’re more likely to make better decisions that will nourish your body—as you buy, prepare, serve, and consume it. There are plenty of benefits that come with mindful eating, and that includes encouraging proper digestion, aiding in nutrient absorption, promoting an ideal body weight and developing a healthy relationship with food.
Many people find it helpful to attend a workshop or online course on mindful eating. However, eating as mindfully as we do in a mindfulness course is not realistic for many of us, especially with families, jobs, and the myriad of responsibilities we have. Just like any other lifestyle change, mindful eating will only work when you make it compatible with your lifestyle. There are many simple ways on practising mindful eating while still complimenting your modern lifestyle:
1. Making considered food choices
Mindful eating includes being aware of the variety and quality of food we put into our body. Our bodies use food as fuel to keep our body and brain running. But if we put the wrong fuel in our body, it will not work as well. We have to choose the right foods that provide the right nutrition and prolonged benefits, rather than settling down for unhealthy processed foods that give us instant, short-term satisfaction. We need a healthy balance of fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and healthy fats to keep our mind and body performing at its best.
2. Eat slower
Taking the time to savor is one of the best ways we can get our mind and body to communicate what we really need for nutrition. When you eat too fast, you don’t chew the food thoroughly and may unconsciously overeat, since it actually takes the brain up to 20 minutes to realize you’re full. Proper chewing kickstarts the digestive process and allows for better absorption of vitamins and nutrients. Simple ways to slow down might just include many of your grandmother’s manners, like sitting down to eat, chewing each bite 20-40 times, setting your fork down between bites.
It’s very likely that you’ll eat a lot less. In this way, eating slowly helps prevent overeating, which causes unnecessary weight gain and digestive stress. You’ll be surprised at noticing all the flavors you might otherwise have missed. Plus, you’ll be able to enjoy the experience of your meal better, especially with your company.
3. Shut off your electronics
We’ve all had the experience of going to the movies with our bag full of popcorn, and halfway through the movie, we are asking who ate all of our popcorn. Our daily lives are full of distractions, and it becomes hard to listen deeply to our body’s needs and wants. Make your mealtime an electronic-free zone. Place your mobile phones in another room or turn it off completely, put away anything else—like books, magazines, and newspapers—and give your full attention to the meal in front of you. Focus on enjoying your meal and the company you are sharing the food and conversation with.
4. Engage your senses
Mindful eating an be a magical, stimulating experience. The crunch of walnuts, the aroma of rosemary herbs, the vibrant color of ripe tomatoes—eating isn’t just about taste. Tapping into all your senses at meals will encourage you to slow down and truly savor all the different sensations while eating. At your next meal, notice the colors and shapes of your food. Then, close your eyes and smell the aroma of your food. As you take a bite of food, notice the sounds, flavors and textures as you chew.
5. Know your body’s hunger signals
Too often, we eat when our mind or emotions compel us to, rather than our bodies. Rather than just eating when we get emotional signals—which can come when you are stressed, sad, lonely or even just bored—become aware of your body and consider how you’re feeling. By tuning into your body more and eating only when you're actually hungry or at set mealtimes, you'll become better at knowing your real hunger cues from emotional ones. Spend a couple of moments and notice the sensations that give you that message. Ask yourself: am I hungry? Am I thirsty? Am I bored or stressed? If I am feeling this way and I eat this food, will it help me feel better? If you’re truly hungry, eat a meal or have a healthy snack. Don’t wait until you’re famished and don’t eat just because there is food around.
6. Know your food
Unless you are a hunter or sustenance farmer, we have all become ever more disconnected from our food in recent years. Many of us don’t even consider where a meal comes from beyond the restaurant kitchen. This is a loss, because eating offers an incredible opportunity to connect us more deeply with nature, the community and the world. Mindfulness is really about rekindling a relationship with our food. Eating mindfully involves thinking about the elements of the universe that contributed into our meal—our friends or ancestors who shared the recipes, the farmers who grew the produce, and to the animals who have given their lives to a part of creating your meal. With just a little more mindfulness like this, we may begin to make wiser choices about sustainability and health in our food, not just for us but for the whole planet.
7. Adopt an attitude of gratitude
Take a moment to say grace. Pause a moment before you begin eating to acknowledge the time, effort and intention involved in bringing the meal to your table. Silently thank the animals, plants, and people for the opportunity to enjoy nourishing, delicious food. Everyone appreciates being acknowledged for their effort, and expressing gratitude at meals remind us how people and nature connect to sustain us with nourishing food. Thoughts of gratitude and appreciation can add even more enjoyment to the experience of eating.
8. Live a fulfilling life
Finally, make the best use out of the fuel you’ve consumed and live the fulfilling, vibrant life you crave!