Mindfulness is the practice of tuning in, slowing down, increasing awareness of thoughts, feelings, sensations without harsh judgments. There is no greater opportunity to practice mindfulness than in our relationship with food before, during and after our meals and snacks.
According to Melinda Johnson, MS, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, there is solid empirical evidence that suggests mindfulness practice in relationship to eating habits has substantial positive effects on our health. Reports suggest that mindful eating may help prevent diabetes type II, avoid obesity and prevent or address eating disorders.
Here are 9 tips for mindfulness at mealtime:
1. If you are the one preparing the meals, move slowly with awareness as you prepare your food. Notice the aromas as you slice, chop, stir, scoop, or cook your food. Try to attend to one task at a time and note the sensations in your body as you work in the kitchen. Be attentive to the natural flow of your breath.
2. When it is time to eat, sit down. Avoid standing or moving about when you are eating. Place your hands in your lap first and look at the food in front of you. Take in the aromas. Take a few deep breaths before you eat. Some people observe a ritual of blessing or feeling grateful for the food.
3. Move slowly as you place a napkin across your lap, pick up your fork and lift the food to your mouth.
4. Once the food is in your mouth, chew slowly and thoroughly. Take time to really taste the food and note the sensation of its texture before swallowing.
5. Set your fork down between bites. Take some deep breaths before your next bite.
6. Notice sensations in your body once you’ve swallowed several bites. Give time for signals from the stomach of feeling gratified without feeling full.
7. Once reaching a sensation of feeling satisfied and not overly stuffed, take a few moments to continue sitting at the table rather than rushing to jump up and go to the next thing.
8. After mealtime is over, washing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen can be another opportunity for mindfulness practice. Move slowly. Take care to put away leftovers with gratitude for plenty. Take time to notice the sensation of the water as you rinse the dishes.
9. If in a restaurant or at someone else’s home, embrace the opportunity to enjoy the presence of your mealtime companion(s) and take in all the sensations of being in the dining room with someone else serving you.
It takes commitment to plan for enough time to have mealtime be a dedicated practice in mindfulness. When our often over-scheduled life commitments make practice of the above 9 actions unrealistic, it is still possible to bring mindful awareness into the equation. If a meal or a snack absolutely must be taken while driving from one appointment to the next, try relaxing into your driver’s seat as much as possible, drop your shoulders down away from your ears, relax the belly and take a few deep, long breaths. Then take small bites one at a time, chewing slowly and thoroughly before taking the next bite. Pay attention to how your body feels as you eat and how you feel afterward.
Mindfulness in relationship to eating also allows for a gentle examination of our thoughts and motivations around mindless snacking and grazing. It is very common to turn to food for comfort or entertainment out of habit when restless, sad or bored. We often do so without noticing what we are eating, without really tasting the food or noticing how much we are consuming.
Try this: Make a promise to yourself that before you eat or drink anything you will take two deep, long breaths and tune into your body, notice your feelings, thoughts and sensations. You may find by practicing this level of awareness the amount and quality of food and drink you choose to consume will change.
Famed epicure and gatronome Brillat Savarin is often quoted as saying, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” While examining the WHAT of all we consume is indeed an important part of the mindfulness practice, Savarin’s writings often addressed HOW one eats and drinks as the key. He wrote, “Those persons who suffer from indigestion, or who become drunk, are utterly ignorant of the true principles of eating and drinking.”
If we can approach our relationship with food and drink as an opportunity to increase our consciousness, to integrate awareness of body’s sensations, mind’s thoughts and our emotions then we achieve a greater sense of peace and well-being.
Lynn Louise Wonders