A Beginner’s Guide to Mindful Eating
We spend a lot of time eating – the average American spends 67 minutes eating every day. Most of the time when we eat we are focused on everything but the food in front of us – our work email, the TV screen, our Instagram feed, our mealtime companion, our thoughts, etc. Because we’re so distracted, oftentimes we don’t even remember eating.
Being present for mealtime can have a positive impact on our health. When our brain is focused on our food, it sends signals to our gut to help it prepare to digest our sustenance. Furthermore, when we are present for eating, it allows our brains to register the nutrition, preventing us from ending up hungry again an hour later.
The mindful eating movement aims to help us reclaim our mealtime. Very simply, mindful eating invites us to slow down and tune into the present moment while eating. Mindful eating has been shown to reduce stress, increase happiness, and promote greater enjoyment of our food. What’s more, eating mindfully supports healthy digestion, reduces cravings, and even promotes weight loss.
Ready to try a mindful eating practice for health and wellbeing? It’s best to enjoy the food in silence with minimal distractions. Here are three tips for inviting more mindfulness into your mealtime:
- Contemplate Your Food’s Journey to You: Take a few moments before eating to contemplate the genesis of our food – things like where the ingredients were grown and sourced, whether transport workers and grocery shelf stockers helped get the food to us, and who bought and prepared the food. This awareness practice allows us to appreciate all the people and elements that contributed to the food in front of us. Also, when we pause and think about where our food comes from, it’s more likely that we will continue to make healthy, sustainable food choices.
- Practice Gratitude: Expand on this appreciation for all of the people and elements that grew, processed, transported, and prepared our food. This practice of gratefulness transforms the sometimes mechanical act of feeding ourselves into something special and enjoyable. In addition, gratitude practice has been shown to reduce stress and promote activation of the parasympathetic, “rest and digest” nervous system -- so practicing gratitude before eating can actually help us digest our food better.
- Play with Your Food: Playing with your food is not just for kids! It actually helps you be more present for mealtime and digest your food better. Start by inspecting the food with your eyes, looking at shapes and colors. Then move into touching the food and feeling texture, maybe even holding finger food up to your ears to see if you can detect any sound. (This sounds silly, but you’d be surprised -- many foods actually make noise when squished!) Then smell your food, and finally taste it, letting the food rest on your tongue for a few seconds before moving it around, and then chewing it. By chewing our food thoroughly before swallowing, we’re allowing the digestive enzymes in our saliva to break down the food as much as possible before it moves to our stomach.
These three mindful eating practices encourage us to bring more awareness, gratitude, and sensory exploration to our mealtimes, which can be some of the most pleasurable moments of our day.
Think about it – the most intimate relationship we will ever have is with our food, because nothing else will actually become us.
Not only is mindful eating a healthy mind-body practice, but also it can shed light on the true experience of mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn expands, "The [mindful eating] exercise dispels all previous concepts we may be harboring about meditation. It immediately places it in the realm of the ordinary, the everyday, the world you already know but are now going to know differently. Eating [food] very, very slowly allows you to drop right into the knowing in ways that are effortless, totally natural, and entirely beyond words and thinking. Such an exercise delivers wakefulness immediately. There is in this moment only tasting."
Have you tried mindful eating? What was your experience?
As Chief Mindfulness Officer of Mastermind Meditation, Dorsey Standish brings research-backed mindfulness and mindful movement to clients throughout the state of Texas. A lifelong learner and scientist, Dorsey has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and is enrolled in the UT Dallas Applied Cognition and Neuroscience Master’s Program. After mindfulness transformed her own work, health and relationships, Dorsey left her corporate role at Texas Instruments to share the power of mindfulness with others full-time. Dorsey’s teachings combine neuroscience research with her experiences in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program and multiple weekend and 10-day silent meditation retreats. Join Dorsey for one of Mastermind’s upcoming applied mindfulness programs at mastermindmeditate.com/programs.