So often we eat mindlessly. Take a look around…we stuff food into our mouths while working on the computer, watching TV, or when we’re on the run. The pleasure of eating lies in slowing down and fully experiencing all of the elements of food.
“Mindful eating is not a diet. There are no menus or recipes. It is being more aware of your eating habits, the sensations you experience when you eat, and the thoughts and emotions that you have about food. It is more about how you eat than what you eat.” -Susan Albers
I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel to many countries around world. Throughout my travels, I’ve noticed that the eating habits of Americans are quite different from those living in the Pacific or Europe. For instance, South Korean meals are prepared and served in a manner that is quite artful.
When you enter someone’s home or a restaurant for dinner, you remove your shoes and quietly sit with your legs crossed in a serene atmosphere at a small, but comfortable table. The dishes mostly consist of fresh fish and fermented vegetables served on beautiful Asian stoneware.
On one occasion, I recall the way that the tea leaves were crushed into my cup, as well as how the water was poured. Traditional Korean meals are some of the most enjoyable and peaceful meals that I’ve ever experienced. Over the years, I’ve come to understand that for many cultures mindful eating is a lifestyle. This is quite contrary to American restaurants which are known to serve large portions of unhealthy food and are usually noisy and overcrowded.
In the book Eating Mindfully, by Susan Albers, she use mindfulness-based psychological practices to help individuals take charge of cravings so that they can eat when they are hungry and stop when they feel full. Eating Mindfully does take practice especially if you’ve been accustomed to eating on the run for several years. If you’re new to mindful eating, here’s a small exercise to help you get started. Take some time to explore each of the following areas during your next meal and notice the difference.
Sight: Look at your food and carefully observe the colors, the arrangement and the quantity of food on your plate. Notice your surroundings, is it quiet, noisy, warm or cold. Is what you are eating nourishing for your body?
Smell: Bring the food up to your nose. Without naming the scent, experience smelling the food, and then describe what you smell.
Physiological reaction: Now focus on what is going on in your mouth. Begin to notice that saliva is produced, even though you haven't yet put the food in your mouth. Notice the mind/body phenomenon and how the senses respond to the anticipation of food being eaten.
Touch: Now explore how the food feels. Without naming the sensation, just experience touching your food.
Motion and movement: How is it that your hand knows how to move the food directly to the lips? As you bring the food up to your mouth, notice what happens next. The mouth receives the food. Nothing goes into the mouth without it being received. And who or what is doing the receiving? The tongue. Observe what the tongue does with it. How does it get the food between the teeth? It's amazing that the tongue is so skilled, and that such a remarkable muscle can actually receive food and then know what to do with it every time.
Taste: After becoming aware of the food in your mouth, start biting into it very slowly. Then begin to chew. Notice that the tongue decides which side of the mouth it's going to chew on. Give all your attention to your mouth and take a few bites. Then stop to experience what's happening. What is happening is invariably an explosion of taste. Express what's going on. Be really specific. What is the experience? Is it sweet or sour or juicy? There are hundreds of words to describe the experience of tasting.
Texture: As you continue to chew the tastes change, as does the consistency. At a certain point you will become aware of the texture of the food because the taste has mostly passed. If the texture causes aversion, you may want to swallow it, but try to keep it in your mouth.
Swallow: Don’t swallow it yet. Stay with the impatience and the inborn impulse to swallow. Do not swallow until you detect the impulse to do so. And then observe what is involved in getting the food over to the place where it's going to be swallowed. When you detect the impulse to swallow, follow it down into the stomach, feel your whole body and acknowledge that your body is now exactly one bite heavier.
Breath: Next, pause for a moment or two, and see if you can taste your breath in a similar way. Bring the same quality of attention to the breath that you gave to seeing, feeling, smelling and tasting the food.
Silence: Be silent. By this point, you understand something of what meditation is. It is doing what we do all the time, except we're doing it with attention: directed, moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental attention.
Be aware that eating mindfully is not a mechanical process; however, it’s a way to help you develop a healthy relationship with your food. The main thing is to have fun, learn something new and to understand yourself better.
Have you tried eating mindfully? If so, share your experience.
Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating and Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food,
Susan Albers 2003