Contrary to popular belief – mindful eating is not a diet and nor is it about giving up what you enjoy eating. It is merely the art of experiencing food more intensely – especially the pleasure of consuming it. A practice-based on Zen Buddhism, mindfulness is the need of the hour; a popular way of self-calming and changing eating behaviours. The practise of mindfulness has helped a large number of people spending their lives intentionally and developing skills to manage chronic pain, disease, depression, sleeping problems and anxiety.
When I began Gouri’s Goodies, it was with the only aim to move my family towards a more nutritious and clean way of eating. It took hours of studying every ingredient label on products, to find the most nutritious option – preservative-free and natural. A realisation struck when I realised a few simple ingredients could make powerful snacks sitting right at home! Crunchiness with seeds, flavour with almonds, nutrition with oats and sweetness with the simplest of all – honey! Every day, we lose ourselves in the patterns of our day to day lives. Here is how to practice the art of mindful eating:
Pause – Take a moment. Reflect. Notice the aroma of the food; its visual and textural appeal. Savour the sensations you receive from looking at the food. This moment, taken aside to appreciate the meal, will help you become more aware of the food you are consuming and give you a sense of presence while doing so.
Eat mindfully – From lifting your fork to poking your food and until its entry into your mouth, notice the food and the actions you perform to get the food to your taste-buds. Pay attention to the flavours, textures and spices in your meal. Chew your meal at a decent pace to relish each portion of the food.
Acknowledge thoughts, feelings and sensations – If you have thoughts of any kind, or develop feelings and sensations within your field of awareness, simply be mindful about acknowledging their existence. Exhibit patience by letting them pass on by.
Eat mindfully (once again) – Focus on chewing – the meal or snack that you are consuming. It takes time to gain a full understanding of the technique, followed by mastering the same. Give yourself time and space to get acquainted with the process.
Eating mindfully helps you remain open to various thought processes, feelings and sensations – instead of shunning them. Acceptance of whatever arises, and the power to let them slide on, as you continue to relish your meal step by step; this is an art to master. There are many little tricks and tips that can help you master the process of mindful eating. Here are some of them:
Whether you have done it in the past or not, take the time to practice a small routine of gratitude prior to any meal consumption. A moment to appreciate the meal in front of you, to cultivate gratitude towards the effort taken to prepare the meal, and the ingredients put together to offer the taste of your wonderful meal – this moment will help you eat mindfully, and is good for your well-being by making you conscious of the meal in front of you.
Sit down (while eating)
For most of us, this is the easiest thing to do. Mindfulness is a practice about being entirely present to our lives in the “now”. Through the daily activity of eating, it is a bad idea to attempt to be mindful while eating on-the-move. It just won’t happen. A very important part of mindfulness is about doing one thing at one time – not multitasking. Respect your food by making the effort of sitting down at one place and relishing your meal.
Yes, it is a misconception that you must do something very slowly in order to achieve mindfulness. However, it would be a major help if practised in the initial stages of trying to adapt to a mindful way of eating. Like every other activity that we learn, mindful eating is a process that is mastered slowly and carefully.
For example – the only way to savour the ingredients of a product is by taking a bite and chewing slowly to identify each taste – the texture, the flavour and the nutrition it provides! Take a Belgian Milk Chocolate Bar – make sure to have the chocolate side of the bar touching your tongue. The sweet and creamy chocolate will tantalize your taste buds. The first bite helps you identify the chocolate, followed by the crunch of almonds, sesame and flax seeds; pushing you onward to tasting the oat bran and the cane sugar that makes up the nutrition of the bar. You must take your time to dive into each bite and savour every layer of your food!
Turn off the television & set aside your mobile phone
In order to offer complete and undivided attention to the activity at hand, we must put away all distracting elements. For example, televisions and mobile phones get in the way of a complete eating experience. As much as possible, turn off the television during eating hours and try to sit away from your mobile phone and computer desktop, if not switch them off. This will help adapt to a lifestyle of mindful eating faster.
Chew 30 times
The Zen way of eating suggests that we must chew our food 30 times, emphasizing on the act of chewing itself. On a regular basis, most of us chew our food a few times and swallow the food (despite having some large pieces). This gives us much less peaceful time to consume our food and is also a very unkind act towards our digestive systems. By practising the habit of chewing 30 times (or at least close to the figure!), we are not only improving our mindful lifestyle but are also kinder to our organs and body functions.
Another Zen trick to adapting to a mindful state of eating is to try your best to eat in silence. This is because, as blank and boring as it seems, silence is very nourishing. Any form of activity brings distractions to the mind, even a conversation. Eventually, we need a break from constant activity. Silence feeds our souls in ways that no other activity can. Make it a habit to eat in silence, so that you have space and mental bandwidth to relish your food at a proper pace with full attention.
Check your hunger levels before eating
Ask yourself – how hungry am I? Am I eating because I am bored? Do I really need to pile up this much food on my plate? These simple questions are imperative to your body and soul – a good proportion of food, just enough to keep you satiated – is necessary. Once you feel overfull, the rest of your body tends to overreact to other activities.
Ending our post for today by a soulful piece by Susan Albers, an expert in mindful eating whose mission is to offer practical and easy mindful eating tools for a peaceful relationship with your food – “Training your mind to be in the present moment is the #1 key to making healthier choices”.