Mindful Eating is not about deprivation, calorie counting, or control. It’s a way of tuning in to the tastes, textures and experience of food, as well as the energy, attitude and purpose with which it’s eaten. Unlike going on a diet for a time (or two or three), it’s a permanent lifestyle change.
If you’d like to learn more about mindful eating, the bookstore and Internet are full of information. Here are a few simple rules to get you on the path:
- Create a ritual. This can be as simple as turning off your technology, washing your hands, and sitting down at the table. Signal to your body and brain it’s time to focus on the meal. Many spiritual traditions incorporate the saying of a prayer or “grace” before eating. In fact, this would be a meaningful way to anchor a ritual that both creates a receptive atmosphere for nourishment and connects the body to the greater picture. Grace need not be a religious affirmation, by the way. “I am grateful for this food and the loving hands that produced it, ” is a lovely secular take. At the end of the mean, pausing to create a sense of completion–“My meal is finished. My body is satisfied”–signifies that it’s time to stop eating for now.
- Put your food on a plate. Sounds so simple, but who hasn’t eaten standing up at the counter, sitting at the desk at work, or driving from activity to activity?
- Eat on purpose and with purpose. If you don’t mean to eat it, don’t eat it. This applies to conference-room donuts that show up after you’ve already eaten breakfast, the dish of candy sitting on the counter at the doctor’s office, mindless TV munching, and the endless sample selection at the big box store.
- Experience one bite at a time. Take a bite of food and then put the utensil down while you chew. Do not use the time you spend chewing to line up your next bite. (This may sound easy, but trust me, it isn’t!)
- Chew every bite 30 times. Yes, 30. Digestion starts in the mouth when salivary enzymes begin to break the food down into smaller molecules. To support good digestion, chew till the food is almost liquefied. This step slows you down tremendously, helping you feel satisfied and recognize when you’ve had enough. Start by counting as you chew. Eventually, you won’t need to count because insufficient chewing will not feel right.
- Notice what’s interfering with the experience of your food. Classic mindful eating guides tell you to cease all other activities—reading, watching TV, etc. Many also advise silent meals. Savoring every mouthful in silence is a truly awesome practice that you should absolutely engage in when possible. But life is complicated. For many families, opportunities to share a meal and catch up on the activities of the day are an all too rare treat. So how about this for a compromise: To whatever extent possible, focus 100% of your attention on your food. Occasionally we have to work through lunch or grab food on the run. We can’t always schedule in sufficient time for an elaborate sit-down affair. Make it a target to fit mindfulness in as you realistically can. When you simply must combine eating with another activity, you can still put your food on a plate and chew it thoroughly. Pause at regular intervals and say to yourself, “I am aware that I am eating. I am tasting my food.”
- Eat solely to feed your body, rather than trying to zone out or escape from unpleasant feelings. Identify what’s driving non-physiological eating. Notice when you are using food to fill a gap, soothe a nerve, reward yourself for finishing an unpleasant task. And need we discuss sticking a big spoon straight into the tub of ice cream after a break up?
I’d love to hear about your experience with adding mindfulness to your mealtime. Let me know in the comments how it goes!