It’s hard not to obsess over food when dozens of messages are coming at us from every direction instructing us about what and how much to eat – to lose weight, get healthy, fight disease, look young, and stay mentally sharp… When did eating a meal get so hard or seem so complicated? It really doesn’t have to be. A growing body of research suggests that our attitudes and actions when it comes to mealtime, may be just as important as what and how much is on our plate. It’s called mindful eating, and it is not a diet, but a state of mind, with its roots in Buddhist teachings that aims to help us reconnect with the experience of eating and enjoying our food.
One of the drawbacks of our fast-paced culture is that many of us have lost the appreciation for sitting down for a leisurely, consciously savored meal, during which we are mindful of where our food originated, how it was prepared, and the way it is served. It’s not rocket science, and it doesn’t require formal table settings and centerpieces. It’s all about living in the moment and being more aware of what we eat, instead of treating mealtime as a means to an end – specifically, to satiate our hunger so we can get back to whatever else we are doing.
If the idea of becoming more mindful at mealtime appeals to you, there are a few simple things you may consider doing to put you on the right track to more enlightened dining.
Slow down. You don’t have to go into slow motion, just remember, eating is not a race. Take the time to savor and enjoy your food. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, try putting down your fork after each bite and concentrating on the food you are eating, not how you can clean the plate in record time. It’s a fork, not a shovel. When you slow down the pace, you are more likely to notice when you are full, you’ll chew your food better and you’ll digest what you eat more easily. You will probably even notice more about the flavor of the food when you actually take the time to taste it.
Declare a no-device zone. Our lives are full of distractions, and it’s not uncommon for families to eat with the TV blaring and one or more family members checking their smartphones. Consider making family mealtime an electronics-free, no-device zone. This doesn’t mean you can never eat pizza in front of the TV again, but let it be the exception not the rule. Besides improving your enjoyment of the meal, and your digestion, you might find your family has much more conversation to share around the table when distractions are limited.
Savor the flavor. The tanginess of a lemon, the spiciness of chilies, the crunch of a French loaf – paying attention to the details of our food can be a great way to start eating mindfully. After all, when you eat on the go or wolf down your dinner, it’s practically impossible to appreciate the flavors and textures of the food. One way to introduce your family to the art of savoring the experience of eating is to involve them in the whole process, from shopping for the ingredients of the meal, to preparing, cooking and serving the food.
Know your food. Mindfulness is really about reestablishing a relationship – a connection with our food. From planting a kitchen garden, to baking bread from locally ground wheat, to visiting a farmers market or local farm cooperative and getting to know the people who produce our food. Eating fresh and local doesn’t just reduce our carbon footprint, but it helps us connect with the story and the people behind our food. Before food became an industry and families had to grow or produce what they ate, or buy if from local sources, to sit down at a bountiful table and have enough to eat at the end of a long day of work, was a celebration – a blessing. Somewhere on the way home from the local supermarket, filled with selections from around the world that have traveled thousands of miles for our convenience, we lost that connection with our food and the appreciation for its origins. Mindful eating, is the practice of reconnecting with our food and celebrating the act of eating and sharing, not just our daily bread, but the whole meal and those with whom we share it.