Hardly a year goes by without a new diet fad becoming all the rage. Then like a passing storm this fad too passes and we wait for the next one to come ashore. Clearly we are obsessed about food and will keep experimenting till we have a clear answer as to what is the best diet for our long-term health. But outside this debate about diet, there is larger question. This is not WHAT we should be eating, but rather HOW we should be eating. Sadly the question of HOW we should eat is lost in our obsession with experimenting with different diets. This post explores this question and provides seven key insights related to Mindful Eating.
1. What is Mindful Eating?
Eating for most is an unconscious activity. After the first few bites we simply plow through our plate without any conscious awareness of either the sensation of the food or the act of eating. Mindful eating on the other hand seeks to make eating a conscious activity. Mindful eating requires that you bring your full attention to the taste, smell, aroma, texture, and sensation of the food that you are eating. In many ways mindful eating is a form of meditation.
2. It will allow you to eat less
Because we eat mindlessly we tend to overeat. There have been studies that show that the act of simply pausing before we eat, to take a moment to experience the aroma of the food, helps reduce food intake. It is also true that when we fully chew the food before swallowing, it helps with digestion. In addition the body gets time to release the right enzymes that aids digestion. Slowing down also gives us enough time to get a satiety signal from the stomach to the brain. This allow us to stop before we begin to overeat.
3. Its not easy
Though it sounds simple, it is not. Eating is an automatic activity like breathing and it is quite difficult to turn this into an activity that consumes our full attention. When you begin your journey into mindful eating you will find that you will frequently relapse into your old ways. This is normal. Rather than fight this, accept it with humility. As soon as you notice that you are not eating mindfully, pause for moment and turn your full attention to mindful eating.
4. It will keep you satisfied longer
By its very nature Mindful Eating requires that we eat slowly. Rather than stuffing one bite of food after another into our mouth we need to completely chew the first bite and swallow it before taking the next one. Rather than our hands going back to the plate to pick up the next bite, we may have to set our forks down and rest our hands on the table while we slowly chew our food and enjoy its taste. Eating mindfully is a deeply enjoyable experience that will allow you to experience the eating experience fully. It will keep you satiated much longer than if you stuffed double the amount in the usual frantic way.
5. Gratitude is important part of Mindful Eating
Mindful Eating does not happen in a vacuum. Our attitude towards the food we consume is a very important part of Mindful Eating. We need to be humble and grateful. The opportunity to be fully conscious of the eating experience is something to be grateful for. Most traditions require some sort of prayer of thanks before the start of a meal, and Mindful Eating requires the same too. Mindful Eating is non-judgmental. The food may not be perfect, but we should consume it thankfully and humbly.
6. Remove distractions
Since mindful eating is a form of meditation, it is important to remove distractions while eating mindfully. You must be seated comfortably. No TV, no music, and even no thinking or conversations while eating mindfully. If you have to get up to get more servings that is fine, but first completely chew and swallow what you have in your mouth.
7. Insert pauses
Since Mindful Eating is not easy, you may have to use some tricks. One good technique is to insert one or more pauses in your meal. Every time you stop eating you should completely chew your food and swallow it before you resume. One simple technique is to put small servings on your plate. Also arrange your table so that you have to get up for the next serving. This should allow you to slow down and consciously resume Mindful Eating.
The journey into Mindful Eating is also a journey into health and wellbeing. In this journey you will not reach your destination overnight. But one thing is sure: Along the way you will have many deeply satisfying experiences.
Related: NY Times article on Mindful Eating.