By Kelly Barron
As human beings, eating is one of the most straightforward things we do, and yet our relationship to food can be complicated.
We eat when we’re bored or upset rather than hungry. Chocolate cake is not only entertaining, it can offer emotional solace when nothing else suffices. We eat on the go instead of sitting down and savoring a meal. I once saw a woman eating soup behind the wheel of a Honda Accord in stop-and-go L.A. traffic — amazing, but true. We also habitually eat so fast (if I entered a hot dog eating contest I’m certain I’d win) that we often barely taste the food we’re feasting on.
Like I said, eating is straightforward and, yet, it’s complicated–but it doesn’t have to be.
A simple, but powerful practice that can help us enjoy our food more and eat healthier is mindful eating.
Mindful eating might sound like another fad, but it’s a long-standing respected mindfulness practice that encourages us to become more aware of ourselves. Mindful eating can guide us to make healthier choices about what we eat and invite us to care for ourselves in a fundamental way.
At its simplest level, eating mindfully is about devoting our attention to our food and slowing down long enough to relish every bite.
The playwright Henry Miller once said: “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”
This is certainly true about food. When we bring our full, undivided attention to an apple, for example, we might be surprised by just how red the fruit is; how its shiny skin throws off a subtle, earthy smell and how on our first bite the firm exterior gives way to a fleshy tartness that fills our mouth with sweet flavor.
Eating with awareness and attention is not only delightful, but it allows us to connect to the urges that drive us to eat in the first place. Are we eating because we’re bored or upset or because we’re truly hungry? Because eating mindfully requires attention, we’re less likely to eat on the run, allowing us to open up to the full sensory experience of a meal. We might also discover that when we eat mindfully we become more inclined to make healthier choices.
When I was a kid, I loved Cheez-Its. I could down a whole box in a matter of minutes. I haven’t had Cheez-Its in years. But recently, I decided to treat myself to some cheesy Cheez-Its goodness with the caveat that I’d snack mindfully. As I took a cracker out of the box, I noticed how unusually orange it was. The cracker’s salty fragrance took me back to the carefree days of third grade. But as I took a bite and slowly chewed, comparisons to cardboard came to mind. No offense to the Kellogg Co. (maker of said Cheez-Its), but lingering over a juicy grape or savoring the salty wonder of an olive is far more satisfying.
How do you add a bit of mindful eating into your day? Here are three suggestions. Also, remember mindful eating is a practice. You won’t always have the time to mindfully eat every meal, but even taking a few bites with awareness and attention is a satisfying, stress-free way to simplify our complicated relationship with food.
Mindful Eating Should be a Sensory Experience
When we open our senses to the food in front of us we heighten the delight of every meal. Next time you eat, pause before you begin. Notice the colors and aromas. Linger over the flavor, the texture, and even the sounds of the food you eat. Chew slowly–it’s OK if a bit of apple juice dribbles down your chin or if you slurp your soup. Enjoy!
Bring A Plateful of Attention to Your Meals
Multitasking doesn’t just happen in the office. We multitask when we eat too, chowing down in front of laptops, iPhones, and television screens. Next time dinner rolls around, try an experiment: Put away your devices and devote your attention to your meal, then, ask yourself: Is food tastier when I eat mindfully? Is my meal more pleasurable or relaxing when I pay attention to what I’m eating?
Eating Mindfully to Savor the Flavor
One of the most basic ways we can practice mindful eating is to slow down. Pausing for a moment before we put a potato chip in our mouth helps us tune into our minds and bodies and notice if we’re hungry or if we’re eating for other reasons. Slowing down not only affects how much we enjoy our food, but also how well we digest it. Taking time to chew our food not only makes it taste better, it helps our stomachs absorb it, which can prevent bloating and indigestion. Eating slowly also connects us to feelings of fullness, helping us to avoid overeating.
Try Eating Mindfully During Your Next Meal
So, the next time you’re tempted to eat as you run out the door in the morning, guzzle down a soda even when you’re not thirsty or check your emails while having lunch, remember the benefits of mindful eating. The more you practice it, the more it will become a habit and the more your overall health will improve.
About the Author
Kelly Barron. M.A., is a certified mindfulness facilitator, at UCLA and writer. She teaches mindfulness for UCLA’s Mindfulness Research Center as well as for corporations, schools and private groups. Kelly has worked as a mindfulness teacher with eM Life since 2016. She came to learn the value of mindfulness as a deadline-driven journalist. Now, she’s passionate about sharing mindfulness with others to help them live with more ease, clarity and joy. You can learn more about Kelly and read her blog at www.kellybarron.com.