Savor the Present Moment
How to Add Mindfulness to Mealtime
by Veronica Hinke
There is a sharp difference between grabbing a fast-food burger at the drive-through and paying full attention to a home-prepared meal. For many of us, busy schedules and harried lifestyles get in the way of a more introspective dining experience. Mindful eating—the practice of slowing down, appreciating the present moment and becoming consciously aware of the ingredients, flavors, aromas and textures that we consume—can be a worthwhile meditative endeavor.
“If we’re mindful of what we eat, when we eat and how we eat, we are supporting the vibrancy of what our bodies are so capable of,” says Dr. Carrie Demers, medical director at the Himalayan Institute, in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. “Studies show that when people stop to sit down and chew their food carefully, they not only eat less, but they actually get more enjoyment out of their meal. Food tastes better when we are actually present with it.”
“When we slow down, we become more aware,” says Shawngela Pierce of Seek Within You, who leads spiritual retreats in Sedona, Arizona. “Sometimes people eat out of habit, but when we become more mindful, we start to notice patterns that, once understood, can help us harness a whole new way of eating and living.”
Mindfulness can begin before we even sit at the dining room table, “when we aren’t distracted by watching television or something else, and we take the time to think deeply about what we are preparing,” Pierce says, adding that calm focus can even help us when shopping for ingredients at the farmers market or grocery store.
Recipes That Enrich Mindful Eating
The Ann Wigmore Natural Health Institute, in Aguada, Puerto Rico, offers a mindful eating class that invites diners to practice with a bowl of Ann Wigmore’s Energy Soup—a recipe by the institute’s founder containing an array of vegetables, legumes and grains. “It’s fulfilling, nutritious and cleansing, all in one,” says Executive Director Carolyn Marin. “Key in what makes this a mindful eating meal is that while it is pulsed in a blender, it is not a liquid, and it requires chewing. Also, it is served at room temperature, which helps with mindful eating and proper digestion.”
While soft music plays in the background, students of the mindful eating class are instructed to slowly pick up their spoons, place a serving of soup in their mouths, set their spoons down and unhurriedly chew 30 times. “They look out at the ocean, breathing carefully, eating consciously and slowly, taking their time and getting their body out of fight-or-flight mode and into healing mode. It can be very emotional,” Marin explains. “Mindful eating also aids in digestion because the person is chewing the food fully and allowing it to spend more time in the mouth, where digestion begins. Many of our guests have experienced noticeable improvement with acid reflux, stomach aches and nausea.”
Four Aspects of Mindful Eating
Marc Demers, head chef at The Himalayan Institute, says there are four aspects of mindful eating—right food, right time, right quantity and right attitude or environment—each of which can be individualized and honed to deepen awareness and improve health. Here are his recommendations.
Right Food: Eat fresh, whole foods that are easy to digest and give energy. We need mindfulness to notice which foods support us and which cause indigestion, mucus or fatigue.
Right Time: Our bodies naturally digest better in the daytime and when we feel hunger. Stop eating at least three hours prior to bedtime. We need mindfulness to notice the difference in digestion between eating ice cream at 3 p.m. and at 11 p.m.
Right Quantity: Eat just the right amount of food—enough to feel satisfied and fuel the day’s activities, but not so much that we feel lethargic or sleepy. Mindfulness helps us notice our hunger and fullness, as well as how we feel after we eat.
Right Attitude or Environment: Sit down in a peaceful place, ideally with people we like, rather than eating while driving, working or walking. Don’t eat when stressed or angry. If we are upset, it is better to take a moment to mindfully breathe and calm the nervous system before eating. The goal is to welcome the food with gratitude and openness.
Take It Slow and Steady
For those struggling to commit to mindful eating, Pierce says, “Start practicing mindful eating with the food that you enjoy the most. Don’t try to do it all at once. Just try one meal each week as a start. Make it a priority. Set a reminder if it helps. Have fun with it. Make it a playful practice. Say, ‘Today is going to be my mindful eating day.’ That opens the gateway to something that will become an integral part of your spiritual life.”
Veronica Hinke is a food historian and author of The Last Night on the Titanic: Unsinkable Drinking, Dining and Style and Titanic: The Official Cookbook. Learn more at FoodStringer.com.
Photo credit: Asier Romero/ShutterStock.com