Thank goodness we have to eat every day to survive!
Nourishing our bodies could be a technical, tasteless chore of survival. Lucky for us, the eating experience is synonymous with pleasure. But…it’s easy to forget how fortunate we are when food is so tasty and readily available. I have struggled my whole life with balancing nourishment and pleasure, so I wrote out some reminders for myself in my journal that I’d like to share. Here are my ten favorite tips to practice for more mindful eating:
- Buy only the highest quality ingredients made with love. Mindful consumption is at the core of mindful eating. It seems obvious, but it wasn’t until the a few years ago that I began to be discriminant about what I put into my body. Being young and energetic, I hardly realized that I would crash and feel sick after eating sugary foods. As I began to adjust my eating habits after university, I started to notice how awesome I felt after drinking a green smoothie prepared with veggies from my garden. We are high performance biological machines capable of incredible feats, but we are only as powerful as the fuel we put in the tank. Cutting corners with our food has consequences, both to our own health and energy and also to our environment and society. Take a look at your finances and see if you can make adjustments to make high quality food a top priority. Look for honest, local food made by real people with simple ingredients and without the use of chemical pesticides, genetic modifications, factory processing or unnecessary packaging.
- Sit down and get rid of any distractions. We are so often eating on the go, in front of the fridge, or mindlessly munching down in front of the TV or our phones. Simply sitting down at the kitchen table with our meal instantly brings mindfulness back into our eating habits. Photo by Donna Hay
- Prepare your food with love. The devotion and care we put into creating a beautiful meal is so important! No ingredient is more important than love. Eating beautiful food turns everyday meals into delicious ceremonies of nourishment. Take the time to arrange your food in a beautiful way on your plate, adding flowers and fresh herbs, paying attention to the layers and shapes. Bring your awareness to the chorus of colors, textures and flavors that can be arranged on your plate in your own unique way. Even though it’s a bit cliche, I find taking pictures of my finished culinary masterpieces before I eat is a great way to stay motivated to eat healthy, colorful, beautiful food with every meal.
- Say a prayer of gratitude before and after your meal. If you’re anything like me, eating is the best part of the day! What’s better than feeling hungry with a beautiful plate of food before us? Think about all the miracles and hard work that have gone into growing and harvesting every ingredient. Give thanks to the farmers for all their months of labor and love for their crop. Give thanks for the miraculous processes of nature to create life from seed, water, soil and sunshine. Give thanks for the convenience of the grocery store or farmers market you purchased your food from, or for the hard work you’ve put into your garden for being so abundant and beautiful. Give thanks for the job that gave you the money to buy food and cook it and have it here in front of you. Same goes for after the meal: close your eyes and feel the nourishment fueling your body. Give thanks to those you have shared your meal with and to whomever cooked your meal. How lucky you are to have eaten today! So many of our fellow humans live without such basic privileges as a healthy meal.
- Give your food a second cooking. When I received my Reiki Level I and II attunements and began learning about energy work, my teacher told me we can even give reiki to our food, as a “second cooking.” The energy and intention in your food will manifest in how we feel after eating. Give your food some love. Hold your bowl or plate in your hands. Look at your meal with the loving gaze you might give a child or partner. Open your heart and channel it’s loving vibrations into your food.
- Slow Down! One of the most important questions I’ve ever asked myself about my eating habits was, “If I like food so much, why don’t I stretch the eating experience out as long as possible?” The easiest way to enjoy food more is to eat as slowly as possible. Chew longer and slower. Make every mouthful an exercise in masticating your food as much as possible. Not only will chewing more help with digestion and absorption of nutrients, you’ll also get more satisfied from less food. Notice if you are chewing evenly on both sides of your mouth, feeling the food move between your teeth, tongue, lips and cheeks.
- Put down your utensils between bites. I notice sometimes my default eating mode means constantly having a bite of food in my mouth. It’s a primal autopilot mode: Eating means chewing. Constantly. I sometimes notice after eating half my food that I’ve hardly even taken a normal breath in between bites or noticed what’s actually my mouth. If we put down our forks or spoons between mouthfuls, and take the time to chew your food thoroughly, we break the primal feeding mode and begin to savor the food we already have in our mouths without thinking so much about the next bite that hasn’t even happened yet.
- Take smaller bites. There’s really no need to have a full mouthful of food every bite. This is a great trick to practice at a dinner party. Everybody’s talking and chewing big bites of food means less participating in the conversation. You can also try eating with chopsticks, which doesn’t allow for as big of bites as a fork or spoon. Or you can simply experiment with loading only half as much food onto your fork or spoon as normal. Try getting your mouth used to smaller bites, it means you double the amount of bites in a meal, leading to more satisfaction and time spent being mindful of your food.
- Reframe eating as a sensual experience. You eat with more than your taste buds. When you chew, what is it that you notice about your food? How does the texture change after each chew? Can you bring your awareness to notice which ingredients you’re tasting? What makes your food smell so tasty? How does your food make you feel as you eat it? As we slow down and become mindful of the different senses that are being activated by your meal, our food takes on deeper dimensions of enjoyment.
Try this! I call this the “best apple ever” experiment. Grab an ordinary apple from your fruit basket. Close your eyes and try and imagine every step of the process of getting this humble fruit into your hands. How many years did it take to grow the tree from seed to maturity? Who taught the farmer how to grow? How did you get the abundance to receive this apple? How was it delivered to your farmers market or grocery store? These are all miracles! Now, open your eyes. Notice the color of the apple. Is it pink? Yellow? Green? Deep red? As you take your first bite, what is your first sensation? How do your teeth feel as they break through the apple’s skin and into the sweet, crunchy flesh? Put down the apple and chew slowly. How does the taste change with every moment as it moves around your mouth? Chew thirty times before swallowing. Do this slowly. Breathe deeply. As you finish, notice how the apple feels moving from mouth to stomach. Inhale. Exhale. Bring your awareness to the vibrant tastes in your mouth even after the apple is gone. When you feel ready, take a second bite, and so on from there. When you’ve finished, you’ll no doubt feel more satisfied than if you’d eaten a much larger meal.
For more on mindful eating, check out legendary Buddhist monk, zen master and author Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, How to Eat.
Cover photo credit: Heavenlynn Healthy