While many of us are lovers of food and flavor, we’ve forgotten how to eat with intention; instead, we’ve developed a complex relationship with food, peppered with emotional triggers. We’ve lost touch with the fact that eating is and should always be a pleasurable experience – meant to fully engage each of our senses and ground us more firmly in the present moment. We move through life with blinding speed, failing to slow down and savor every complicated taste, nuanced texture, and aromatic scent that graces our palate. We rarely listen for internal cues that indicate when we are hungry, take time to identify our cravings, attempt to distinguish between hunger and emotions such as boredom, or try to stop eating before we are satiated.
Mindful eating practices, which originate from Buddhist traditions, do not promote one specific diet, nor is deprivation at the heart of the discipline. The happy accident, of course, is by slowing down the act of eating, by quieting external distractions, by cultivating an appreciation for food and considering its origin, your body is given time to catch up to your brain and send the long-awaited signal that you are indeed, full. When you engage with mindful eating techniques, you unlock internal wisdoms, written into your genetic code, that crave nutritious, balanced meals.
Adversely, mindless eating and drinking habits are conditioned by emotional responses, which we believe give us permission to use food and beverages as a coping mechanism. We turn to food to counteract the effects of stress, frustration, boredom, loneliness, and despair or use food to enhance a celebratory moment of accomplishment or a family gathering around a holiday table. We continue to eat mindlessly when we fail to see a support system in our spouse or friends, lean into self-sabotaging tendencies during our efforts to lose weight, or are simply paralyzed by frustrating and contradictory nutritional messages in the health and wellness world.
The foods we choose to eat present us with an opportunity to acknowledge the close connection between ourselves and everyone around us. Weaving mindful eating strategies into everyday activities is the best way to develop healthy eating environments, evolve our relationship to food, and practice self-inquiry to identify better ways to love and nourish our bodies.
- Find time to eat one mindful meal, by yourself, without distraction. Silence your phone, turn off the TV, put your book aside or pause your podcast. Notice how you are seated, where you choose to eat, the tempo of your eating, and the feeling of inevitable satiation.
- Engage with all of your senses, noticing colors, smells, sounds, textures, and tastes. Use these sensations as anchors to come back continuously to the present moment. Observe your experience of eating without judgment or criticism towards yourself or your meal.
- Connect with your food’s story. Try to buy local produce or visit a nearby farm where your food is grown. Consider all of the people involved in making the food you bring into your home. Ask yourself, who grew this food? Who picked ingredients for this food? Consider the elements involved: the earth in which the ingredients grew, the sunshine and rain that gave the food life, the air which nourished the food, the space in which the food was able to grow and flourish.
- When you eat a meal that doesn’t meet your goals, consider journaling your experience. Ask yourself, was it hunger or emotion that drove you to that food? How did you feel while you were eating it? How did you feel after you had eaten it? Did you gain anything from the experience of eating? Was there something to be gained had you decided not to eat the food? Would you approach this eating experience differently if it was presented to you again, under similar circumstances?
- Involve your friends and family. Consider beginning each family meal with a few minutes of silence to connect with all aspects of the food on your plate. Ask your child to describe the avocado they are enjoying. Talk to your friends about your favorite flavors during a shared meal. Connect and evolve.