Do you find yourself eating most of your meals and snacks in front of a TV or computer screen?
Do you grab food on the go, gulping it down with a beverage before you’ve had a chance to chew it?
During meals, are you also talking on your smartphone, or is your mind preoccupied with your next project or concern so much that you barely notice what you’re eating?
All of the above are examples of “mindless eating,” the opposite of “mindful eating.”
“Mindful eating” is a concept that comes from Buddhism, a religion that cultivates mindfulness not just in eating but in all aspects of everyday life. Although books have been written about mindfulness, very simply it is noticing, in a relaxed, nonjudgmental way, what is happening in the present moment. Although it’s called mindfulness, it necessarily includes the senses, because it is through the senses that we experience the present—through what we see, smell, touch, hear and taste.
The practice of mindfulness requires that we slow down, quiet our thoughts, and “come to our senses” so we can be more fully present for whatever we’re doing. Most often our minds are preoccupied by thoughts of the past or the future. But real life occurs in the present, and it can be all too easy to miss the present moment if we’re always “lost in thought.” The result is a kind of constant agitation and stress, along with a gnawing sense of “something missing.” (That “something missing” is the actual substance of life, which only occurs in present time!)
By being more present at meals we restore and replenish ourselves on a deeper level, leaving the table more deeply satisfied, refreshed and energized. By slowing down, we also give ourselves time to chew thoroughly, and by getting into a more relaxed state, we maximize digestion.
In a recent article, Jan Chozen Bays, pediatrician, teacher of zen Buddhism, and author of Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, recommends five steps for more mindful eating:
1. Begin with Gratitude. It may be a traditional grace, or a few moments to consider all the people and other life forms that have contributed to the meal you are about enjoy.
2. Be Kind to Your Stomach. Before serving yourself, bring your attention to your stomach. How much volume would it be comfortable working with? Serve yourself 2/3 of this amount. After eating it, pause and check in with your stomach again. Perhaps you really want more; perhaps not.
3. Take Mindful First Bites. Savor your first bites or sips. Close your eyes to experience the flavors, temperature, and textures. Halfway through your meal, refresh your palate with some water, and repeat.
4. Slow Down. A great way to eat less and enjoy it more. Don’t take a second bite until the first is thoroughly chewed, enjoyed and swallowed. (Remember it takes 15-20 minutes for satiety hormones to reach your brain, telling you you’ve had enough.)
5. Feed the Multitude Within. After your meal, pay your respects to the trillions of organisms living in your intestines. Bays says to “send them loving kindness and a wish for their good health and continuing support of your body, heart, and mind,” and suggests following this with a prayer that all beings everywhere be nourished in body and spirit.