Bringing Mindfulness to Mealtime

date: April 30, 2013

When’s the last time you savored the juiciness of baked chicken? Delighted in the spiciness of some fresh-made salsa? Soaked in the tempting aroma of some hot-out-of-the-oven bread? This very practice—mindful eating—is often overlooked in our busy lives. But bringing more awareness to meals in these and other ways can not only make them more enjoyable, but help you in your quest to improve your eating habits or stay on your already healthy course.

The goal of mindful eating is simple: To pay attention to the purpose of what you’re eating; the texture, taste and smell of food; and how you feel when you eat. The result: A true consciousness that creates otherwise-missed moments when you consider how well your choices are nourishing you, if they are truly satisfying, and if you’re eating out of hunger or for some other reason (like boredom or sadness).

Being aware of the large bowl of chips you’re about to snack on at a party can trigger you to assess if the crudité might be a better choice. Relishing the sweetness of a pear may make it suddenly seem as satisfying as a candy bar. Acknowledging your full stomach may render that “must have” snack unnecessary…and so on. Just as important, the mindful eating approach helps bring pleasure to meals, as you tune into (and perhaps even rediscover) all the joys healthy food can bring your senses.

Many of the factors that have gotten in the way of us eating mindfully—packed  schedules, the lure of the television—also coincide with us treating the act of nourishing ourselves less and less like a sacred ritual. To make mindful eating come easier, and soon become second nature, try these mealtime-honoring strategies:

Eat at a Table…
It’s a lot harder to be mindful of what or how much you’re eating when you’re indulging in last night’s takeout while standing in front of the refrigerator. When you sit down in a dedicated space for your meals, your mind automatically gets the message that it’s time to focus on feeding your body. With this attention, you may be more aware not only of what you’re serving yourself, but whether or not you really need that second helping.

…and Avoid Distractions
Watching a movie, checking your phone, surfing the web on your tablet—multi-tasking while eating may seem like a good use of time, but research shows that people consume more when they are doing other things. Eating can easily become an automatic task—you don’t need to think too much to accomplish it—while reading your e-mails, for example, requires more of your attention. When focus shifts from your meal, it’s difficult to be mindful of what you’re putting in your mouth.

Put Down Your Fork
Take a bite, put down your utensils and close your eyes. Clear your mind and focus on your food. Is it cool or warm? Is it crunchy or smooth? Savory or sweet? Then, start chewing, being aware of your movements, and swallow. Doing this, and taking a moment before picking up your fork again, helps stop you from eating too fast to register not only the quantity of food you’re eating, but how delicious just a few bites can be. Thoroughly chewing your food and trying to eat with chopsticks can also help you slow down.

Practice Breathing
Deep breathing relaxes the body and mind—a benefit if you find that the stress you carried with you throughout the day translates to blindly speed-eating your dinner once you get home. Not only can a few breaths do the trick, but it can also heighten your senses, making the flavors and scents of your food pop.

Think About Where Your Food Comes From
Food travels an average of 1,500 to 5,000 miles to get your plate. By eating locally (or “ground to table”), you not only get the freshest foods, but a stronger appreciation of the time and effort that went into bringing them to you. It’s hard not to be more mindful of what you’re eating when you’ve met who grew it at the neighborhood market, or know the town it comes from.

Give Thanks
With so much bounty around us, it is easy to take for granted that there will always be food in the house. Consider meals as your time to be appreciative of good food and company. This simple act of expressing gratitude in thought—or, if you’re spiritual, in prayer—gives your food and mealtimes a new meaning and sense of importance.

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