As a society we tend to obsess about what we put into our bodies. New diets or supplements abound. The practice of mindful eating prompts us to consider how what we are eating impacts on ourselves and the earth.
Mindful eating is the habit of not rushing food but actively immersing ourselves and our senses in the present. It can be enjoyed and practised by us all, irrespective of religious beliefs or cultural upbringing. To read more about Mindfulness in your everyday life and why it's something you should consider practising, check out one of these great links - Mind Body Green or The Alternative Daily
We should consider the environment we set up for eating, the rituals we take in meal preparation and the targeted switching-on of our senses during consumption. This is not a quick fix but more an option that you will benefit from when practised everyday.
The Benefits of Mindful Eating
Eating mindfully will sate your appetite in an efficient manner that encourages you to eat no more than the optimum amounts. Tasting food whilst ‘in the moment’ is far more enjoyable than rushing it, because it brings out the best flavours. And by no means least importantly, mindful eating is a way by which we can de-stress and switch off from the day, bringing the focus inwards and making mealtimes an exercise in relaxation as well as nutrition.
Meal Preparation as an Opportunity to be Mindful
There are two distinct types of meals eaten - self-prepared food, and meals prepared for us – but for this minute we’ll concentrate on meals you prepare yourself, even if it’s just a sandwich.
Mindfulness meditation encourages us to create regular short downtimes and use our breath as an anchor to become present (read more about utilising the natural pauses in your day here). Mealtimes are an ideal natural pause, and they often commence with preparing ingredients. This is an excellent opportunity to be present (remember you are in the kitchen and may be handling equipment) and experiencing ingredients, aromas, tastes, textures and colours in all their glory.
Grounding in the Moment
Paying attention to the ingredients we prepare, whilst perhaps focussing on our breath or outside stimuli, will ground us in the moment. Furthermore, if we maintain complete attention when we are undertaking food preparation, it will pay dividends for the meal as you’re ‘cooking with Love’.
Time is a factor in mindfulness and it is a factor in cooking and eating too. We learn not to look ahead in our practise and in cooking this translates to patience whilst we wait for a sauce to thicken or ingredients to infuse. If we make a mistake we should not dwell either, as this is akin to looking back, another barrier to staying present.
Establishing an Eating Area
Eating food whilst sitting on the sofa watching television in our living room is not conducive to fully experiencing tastes and textures. Instead we should create a light ritual for our mealtimes and a place dedicated to eating.
The serving of water or other drinks as part of a meal, will assist in pausing our eating momentarily, whilst quality cutlery might remind us to eat with respect. Remove clutter from eating areas, though it can be helpful to incorporate visual distractions like flowers, candles or placemats on the table as well as some soft background music. A dedicated mealtime area can stimulate all the senses, not just taste.
A Mindful Mealtime Walkthrough
Mealtimes should form part of a mindful ‘checking in’ cycle you might already undertake throughout the day. But for those new to mindfulness practices, or as a signpost for the familiar, here is a practical walkthrough to eating mindfully:
1. Look at the food on your plate, take the time to notice the colours, textures and aromas of your food.
2. Start to experience the sensation of touch also. Perhaps do this by taking a short time to feel the edges of the table you are seated at and the definitive nature of the bowl or plate you are eating from. Similarly, when picking up cutlery, notice the weight of the implements between your fingers.
3. When placing your food into your mouth, feel it passing across your lips. Use measured chews, take the time to notice the tones of the flavour and the texture of the dish.
4. Pay attention to your swallowing. You should be able to feel food passing through your throat and down into your belly.
5. Pause regularly during your meal. Make conversation if you are dining in company, or otherwise take in the space around you if dining alone.
Tidying after your meal is also a great way of tapping into the domain of mindfulness. Having a clean work space is rewarding in itself whilst the actual practice of cleaning is an opportunity to focus on the now. Hand washing dishes invigorates many senses, while wiping a table can be very meditative. However, many of us have dishwashers, so rinsing plates prior to putting them in the dishwasher neatly strikes a good balance.
After a meal we can bring in other important disciplines such as mindfully storing leftovers and minimising waste by using sound recycling choices.
A personal journey into mindfulness can be rewarding and life affirming. Introducing food into a mindfulness journey makes for a fantastic partnership. Significantly, our individual journeys in food consumption have the power to cause collective change, now more so than ever.