What Is Mindful Eating? (Hint: Your iPhone isn’t invited.)
Maybe it was adulthood. Maybe it was screen overload. Or maybe it was that yoga retreat last December where I enjoyed silent breakfast surrounded by other urban escapees seeking inner peace and detox through silence, a lake view, and some Ayurvedic bean and squash mush.
Whatever it was, I discovered mindful eating. Learning to eat mindfully changed not just my relationship with food, but my health and the way I proceed through life.
That sounds dramatic. To be clear: I did not discover true enlightenment or the meaning of life in a bowlful of oatmeal, which is pretty much what I thought mindful eating was all about. It seemed intimidating, esoteric, and above all, unrealistic.
Whenever I heard someone talk about “eating mindfully,” I pictured either 1) chanting monks, or 2) a vaguely woo-woo, hippie activity, probably involving weird root teas and a lot of boredom.
Once I learned how to eat mindfully — which is easy, by the way — I became more conscious of my food. Better, I also found that I was more present and less stressed in general. You can do it, too. Here is a quick guide to mindful eating.
What Is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating simply means that your meal should be savored and noticed. A meal should be a meaningful pause, not a distraction or a quick refueling pit stop amid the clutter and busy happenings of daily life.
Noticing your meal, and taking even a short amount of time to be present not only improves your experience of that meal; it is also a break — a chance to collect thoughts, breathe, take a minute of personal time before the whole day passes by, unnoticed.
Why Is Eating Mindfully Important?
Mindful eating has a host of benefits. (This Bustle article does a great job of listing some.) These benefits range from better digestion — the slower we eat, the better — to lowering stress to helping keep our weight stable, or even lowering it.
How Do You Eat Mindfully?
1. Pay Attention.
Pay attention to your food as you eat it. Notice its smell, texture and flavor. The idea is that you will focus on enjoying the food and not have a million things running through your mind.
To this end, no screens! Your quiet little bowl of soup is no match for the glowing seduction of your Instagram feed. Even books or magazines are not recommended for true mindful eating, but if you are having trouble separating from the screen at mealtime, this may be a nice way to step down.
2. Slow Down.
Chew your food fully, and don’t take the next bite until you have swallowed your first and paused. This makes for better digestion, and fewer extra calories.
If you find that you are having trouble slowing down or focusing, Harvard Medical School suggests eating with your non-dominant hand, or using chopsticks.
Consider what you are eating. Is it nourishing? How often do we consider that we really are what we eat?
The food choices we make affect the quality, health and function of everything from our cells to our bones, organs and even our complexions. The more we are aware of the content of what we’re eating, the more likely we are to think about what it is (or is not) doing for our bodies, and make choices accordingly.
4. Be Grateful.
Have an attitude of gratitude. Pause to appreciate the gift of having food to eat, and think of the people, effort, and even the animals that went into bringing this meal to you.