On Mindful Eating
I never really considered myself a “non-mindful” eater. I ate like everyone else I’d ever met: one sits down, eats, one tries not to overeat, and we’re done. I considered myself someone that enjoys food and the act of eating. I like to cook. And yet, looking back, I was very often be the first person to finish my meal - “wow you eat quickly!” I might hear and take that as a badge of pride. It just was the way it was.
A couple of years ago this all started to change for me when the term “mindful eating” popped in my head and I happened upon the book with the same title from Jan Chozen Bays. The book is full of great advice and exercises. It all boils down to the simple concept: when you eat, eat. Look deeply into each bite. It sounds so simple and yet, if you really do this, it can be life changing.
To really pay attention you have to stop multitasking while eating. You also have to savor each bite. And to do this, you can't rush your meal. You need to put down your silverware while eating. You need to chew more. And this usually means you eat less. Which means you get less lethargic and, often (as a side effect) you might lose weight since you're paying attention to your body's signals of being full. Add this all together, and it’s a richer more spiritual experience. It’s also turned me from the fastest eater at the table to often being the slowest.
Quoting Chozen Bays:
Experiencing one bite or one swallow at a time is a way of experiencing one moment at a time. Since we eat or drink at least three times a day, this mindfulness tool gives us several built-in opportunities to bring mindfulness into each day. Eating is naturally pleasurable, but when we eat quickly and without mindfulness, we don't experience that pleasure. […]
When the mind is absent, thinking about the past or future, we are only half tasting our food. When our awareness rests in the mouth, when we are fully present as we eat, when we slow our eating down, pausing between bites, then each bite can be like the first, rich and full of interesting sensations.
Pursuing pleasure without mindfulness is like being caught on a treadmill. Mindfulness allows pleasure to bloom in thousands of small moments in our life.
It’s been a few years since I discovered mindful eating and it’s been a joy.
What I’ve also found is that mindful eating is a bellwether for whether or not I’m present. If I can’t focus on my meal, it’s usually a sign that I’m not grateful for things around me at all. If I’m rushing, flipping on my phone, reading the news or multitasking while eating, it’s almost always a sign that I’m distracted and need to take a break.
One phrase I’ve heard often is, “The less time you have to meditate the more you need to meditate.” This is basically why. You need to slow down to really appreciate what’s around you.
As Thich Nhat Hanh mentions in “How to eat”:
Something as simple and ordinary as drinking a cup of tea can bring us great joy and help us feel our connection to the Earth. The way we drink our tea can transform our lives if we truly devote our attention to it.
Sometimes we hurry through our daily tasks, looking forward to the time when we can stop and have a cup of tea. But then when we’re finally sitting with the cup in our hands, our mind is still running off into the future and we can’t enjoy what we’re doing; we lose the pleasure of drinking our tea. We need to keep our awareness alive and value each moment of our daily life.
We may think our other tasks are less pleasant than drinking tea. But if we do them with awareness, we may find that they’re actually very enjoyable. Drinking a cup of tea is a pleasure we can give ourselves every day. To enjoy our tea, we have to be fully present and know clearly and deeply that we are drinking tea. When you lift your cup, you may like to breathe in the aroma. Looking deeply into your tea, you see that you are drinking fragrant plants that are the gift of Mother Earth. You see the labor of the tea pickers; you see the luscious tea fields and plantations in Sri Lanka, China, and Vietnam. You know that you are drinking a cloud; you are drinking the rain. The tea contains the whole universe.
So if you’re not centered, use every bite as an opportunity to pause. Put down your fork. Close your eyes and look deeply into each bite.
PS - if this resonates with you, I highly recommend the Mindful Eating book by Jan Chozen Bays.
PPS - I’ve also found making bento boxes to be another extension of mindful eating as they make it really clear what flavors are coming through and how the mix. Recommend!