Self-Care: Mindful Eating
Let food be thy medicine... - Hippocrates
How present are you when you eat? Do you pay attention to the moment and engage all your senses during your meals, or do you eat in a hurry at your desk, or on your feet, or while reading or watching something on your phone, or while preparing food for the rest of your family?
This month, I would like to bring your attention to the simple yet profound practice of mindful eating. Mindful eating will not impact the amount of time it takes to shop for or prepare for your food. It will just require a change in the quality of your attention while you eat. It is truly one of the easiest and impactful mindfulness practices that you can implement in your life.
Here is the practice. When you have food on a plate in front of you, take a pause before you start eating it. Take a few breaths to look at your plate, to smell the food, to observe the colors and textures before you. Take a moment for gratitude - send out a word of thanks for the abundance of the offering before you. Close your eyes to tune into the moment more deeply.
Then, as you begin to eat, take your time chewing and tasting each bite. Make some happy noises as you enjoy those first bites. Try not to let the habit of distraction take you away to your device or TV. If you are eating with your family, by all means engage with them - there is no need to be non-communicative. But even as you engage, take pauses to really experience and slow down your meal. When you are done with your meal, pause again for gratitude, tuning into the feeling of fullness. Notice if you are satisfied and replenished, and how your body is responding to the food.
You can do this with every full meal and with every snack that you eat. Sometimes I have found that as a result of pausing with mindfulness before snacking, I realized that I was not actually hungry for a snack at all, or that I didn’t really want Chex Mix and preferred carrots and hummus.
If you want to practice the simplest version of mindfulness with your food, try doing the above practice with a single raisin.
Feel free to offer this practice to your family too. Engage your kids, spouse, loved ones in experiencing a meal with all of their senses. Enjoy the shared moment.
What are the benefits of doing this? They are numerous! Here are some that I myself have experienced. First of all, mindful eating is a mindfulness practice — if you devote yourself to it, it’s like a meditation, and your body and mind will be calmer and more relaxed as a result of this practice. All the better if you do it with your loved ones! — sharing mindfulness practices like this brings us closer.
Second, you will experience increased satisfaction from your food; your food will become your medicine. As you activate your mind-body connection during your meals, your body will receive greater nourishment from the food you eat, and greater healing from it as well.
Third, a heightened quality of attention during your meals will allow you to recognize more readily when you are full, which often leads to the recognition that we need less food than we think. We often keep eating for comfort, while we do not actually need to be.
Fourth, we begin to recognize if our body has sensitivities to certain foods, because we start noticing subtle fluctuations in our energy levels in response to certain foods. In response to mindful eating, you may, in fact, modify your food selections. Our body has amazing intelligence, and pausing to listen to it will always lead to change for the better.
Fifth, when we become this mindful with our food, we will often be less tempted by our cravings and those of our food habits that are less than healthy. For example, I noticed at some point that I had cravings for dark chocolate after meals, and just noticing that allowed me to change things up so that it became less of a habit and more of a treat.
Finally, eating mindfully allows us to engage all the senses and experience true nourishment as we indulge in all the beautiful smells, tastes, and visuals of our food. I have found that it inspires me to get more creative and make my meals prettier too. For example, I love to put black sesame seeds and kimchi on my stir fries; the colors and textures are so enhanced by this, and it is such a quick and simple addition.
Eating should be the ultimate self-care ritual. After all, it is our nourishment and fuel, and it should charge us up, not slow us down. Just adding mindfulness to how we eat can bring wonderful novelty to eating, and can help you bring a new quality of love to yourself. Give it a try, and bon appetit!