While many of us are lovers of food and flavor, we’ve forgotten how to eat with intention or incorporate mindful eating practices into our daily lives. 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. It’s one that is meant to fully engage our senses and ground us 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. Internal cues that indicate when we are hungry are often ignored. We don’t take time to identify our cravings, or attempt to distinguish between hunger and emotions such as boredom. Often, we don’t stop eating before we are overly satiated.
The Happy Accident:
The Emotions of Mindless Eating:
Have you sat down to a meal, only to find it’s gone, and you have very little recollection of eating a single bite? This scenario refers to a state of mindlessness: a common occurrence in our over-extended, hyperactive lives. Mindless eating and drinking habits are conditioned by emotional responses, typically involving food or beverages that are used as a coping mechanism. Often, we turn to food to counteract the effects of stress, frustration, boredom, loneliness, or sadness. We may eat mindlessly when we feel we don’t have a support system. We sabotage positive steps we’ve taken; sometimes, these are driven by the 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 a great way to develop healthy eating environments, evolve our relationship to food, and practice self-inquiry as we learn to better love and nourish our bodies.
5 Mindful Eating Practices:
1) Find time to eat one mindful meal by yourself.
This week, find time to eat one mindful meal or snack by yourself. Try to limit as many distractions as possible. Silence your phone, turn off the TV, put your book aside or pause your podcast. Instead, notice how you are seated. Where have you chosen to eat? How is the food displayed on your plate? How quickly are you eating? When do you feel full? Was it hunger or emotion that drove you to this meal? Try to observe your experience of eating without judgment or criticism towards yourself or your food choices. If you regularly use a food diary, consider taking a break from writing down the foods you eat, and instead record the emotions you experienced around eating, as well as how you felt physically before and after your meal.
2) Engage with your senses.
Choose a single food item: perhaps a slice of fruit, a piece of chocolate, or a small bite of your favorite snack. Begin my inspecting your food item visually, noticing its colors. Bring it up to your nose and inhale deeply, considering its scent. Close your eyes, and take another deep breath, examining if the scent of the food has changed now that vision no longer aids you. Use your fingers to explore the texture of your chosen food. Finally, allow yourself to taste this piece of food, also noticing the sound it makes as you bite into it and chew. How does your experience of eating this food complement what your other senses revealed? Use this awareness as an anchor to stay in the present moment of your eating experience.
3) Explore mindful drinking.
Bring mindfulness to a simple activity such as making a cup of tea. Draw your attention to the sound of the water heating in the kettle and the wisps of steam dissolving in the air. Pour the prepared water over the tea leaves and focus your attention on the slow coloration of the water. Experience the warm cup in your hand, the sensation of the first sip, and the heat of the liquid in your mouth. Each time you notice you are distracted by unrelated thoughts, sensations, or emotions, gently bring yourself back to your senses and this exploration of mindful drinking. Practicing mindfulness has nothing to do with controlling your mind – your stream of consciousness is far too powerful to keep you from distractions indefinitely. Instead, the gift of mindfulness helps you to cultivate your interior world and discover what lies beneath the buzz of your thoughts.
4) Connect with your food’s story.
When you’re shopping for food, consider all of the people involved in this food you’re bringing back to your home. Who grew your food? Who transported it from its original location? Who prepared or packaged your food? Depending on the store, there may be a section dedicated to locally grown produce featuring a nearby farm. If your town has a farmer’s market, you may be able to meet the farmers involved in harvesting your food and learn more about their livelihood. From another mindful perspective, consider the elements involved in your food. Think about the earth in which the food 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. This connectivity is just as important to mindful eating as the act of eating itself.
5) Involve your friends and family.
Consider beginning a family meal or a shared meal with a few minutes of silence to connect with all aspects of the food on your plate. You may want to include a few words of gratitude. Engage further by asking ask your child to describe the food they are enjoying. Talk to your friends about their favorite flavors during a communal meal. Connect and evolve. While it starts with you, the act of eating is and always will be communal.
Alyssa is a certified Meditation and Mindfulness Instructor. She completed her 200 hour teacher training in 2017 through the McLean Meditation Institute. She leads regular sessions with private clients and teaches group studio classes. Alyssa also hosts retreats and workshops for businesses and firms around the country, notably: Marriott International; Embassy of Canada; Sweetgreen; YPO; SEIU; and Bain Capital. For more information about her offerings, please inquire here.