We live in an incredibly busy world. The pace of life is often frantic, our minds are constantly occupied, and we always seem to be doing something. When we aren’t being bombarded with external distractions, our own minds somehow continue to distract us without assistance; and with equal effectiveness. Whether it’s reflecting on the past or speculating about the future, we rarely find ourselves in the here and now. Still. Present. Mindful.
The last few weeks have been an enforced halt on this frantic living. A temporary pause we otherwise (in all likelihood) would not, and could not, have taken ourselves. In the process, a majority of us have also taken dramatic steps towards raising our awareness about health and hygiene, and addressing certain habits that we had barely been conscious of until now. Mindfulness is in the air! Mindful eating is a natural extension of this mindset. In fact, mindful eating is indeed more of a mindset than anything else. A way of seeing things that has little to do with calories, carbs, fat, or protein. Less to do with what you eat, and more to do with how you eat it. It is a practice that can be incorporated into any lifestyle, diet, or eating pattern.
The Center for Mindful Eating defines mindful eating as “allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom” and “using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body and becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating.” Mindful eating places great emphasis on the senses and, in-turn, on the actual process of eating itself. This focus on the very act of eating is its most distinct element, and key to unlocking the mindset as a whole.
One exercise often used to introduce people to this new way of experiencing food involves the slow and mindful consumption of a raisin; or orange segment (or any other food that we tend to eat a few at a time): hold the item of food and look at it, paying attention to the colour and shape. Notice the texture and weight. Then smell it. Bring it to your ear and listen to it! Then take a moment to acknowledge your appetite before eating. Don’t bite the food straight away! Wait. When you do take a bite, savour it. Then take another. Slowly begin chewing. When you think you’re done chewing, chew five more times before swallowing. Sit and breathe for a few moments.
Savouring and appreciating the food we consume is central to mindful eating. In addition to eating slowly and being more attentive to subtleties, there are other practices that can help enhance our senses at meal times and experience food on a deeper level. For instance, eating on the move is the antithesis of mindful eating. As are TVs and phones at meal times. Sit at a table without watching TV or texting. Just eat and be aware of the experience of eating. It also helps to come to a meal hungry but not starving so that your first priority is enjoying the meal, not filling the void. As you chew your food, try to identify all of the ingredients; especially seasonings. Think about where your food came from and the journey it took to get to you. Whether it be the sourcing of an ingredient, the history of a dish or cuisine, or the art and process of cooking in general, taking a moment to acknowledge and appreciate the origins of the food that we eat goes a long way towards enriching our enjoyment of eating. That’s the key to mindful eating – taking a moment to unlock the hidden pleasures in every bite.