What eating mindfully means and why you should.

When we can slow down and really enjoy our food, our life takes on a much deeper quality. -Thich Nhat Hanh in How To Eat

Eating mindfully.  What, is that some kind of weird meditation thing that those crazy Buddhists do up in the Himalayas?  Well, no.  Wait, maybe.

Eating mindfully does have some similarities to meditation.

Okay, let’s start again.  Here’s what you need to know about eating mindfully – it’s an extremely beneficial practice and has virtually no downside.

Eating mindfully, for those adventurous enough to try it, will do everything from improve your digestion to help you shed some pounds faster than a high school wrestler in a sweat suit.

Eating mindfully is simple but not necessarily easy.  Depending on how you eat now, it could be incredibly difficult to make that transition. However, if you’re willing to devote some time and energy to it, you will reap surprisingly significant changes. Not unlike meditation.

Eating mindfully means you give some time and energy to eating.  Time, for sure.  You cannot inhale a smoothie while parallel parking, applying black eyeliner and listening to the Beastie Boys and call it good.  That is the opposite of eating mindfully.

Eating mindfully is sitting in a comfortable position, with no television, radio or even reading material.  Complete silence is ideal, though of course light conversation with friends and family that you’re sharing food with is good too.

Once comfortably seated and all media is silent, you can begin to eat.  Take the time to chew your food and savor the flavors.  If you’re eating watermelon, enjoy the crunch and sweetness.  Eat as slow as you need to in order to fully chew and appreciate your food.

Think about the origin of your food and what it took to get that food to your store and then to you.  Appreciate the labor inherent in all foods.  Be grateful that you have the means to purchase and enjoy an amazing abundance of different types of food.  In a nutshell, you’re meditating on your food.

This is impossible! Now, if you’re like me, this will be slow torture at first.  I am used to watching videos, typing emails, listening to podcasts, scrolling through Twitter and/or reading while eating.  Basically, I do the exact opposite of eating mindfully.  I eat mindlessly.

Several times during my meal I would go to grab my phone, my laptop or some other electronics in order to quell that voice in my head that became so annoyed with the fact that I WAS JUST SITTING THERE. DOING NOTHING.  LIKE A PSYCHOPATH.  As meditators know, it’s extremely challenging, but also hugely beneficial, to just do nothing.

Okay, technically I wasn’t doing nothing.  I was eating.  But for me, eating most meals is a simple task that invites all manner of other things I can do or think about besides what I’m actually doing.

As it turns out, that’s not how eating is supposed to work.  According to Thich Nhat Hanh, author of  How To Eat (yes, I bought a book called How To Eat – don’t judge.):

 Sometimes we eat and we’re not aware that we’re eating. Our mind isn’t there.  When our mind isn’t present we look but we don’t see, we listen but we don’t hear, we eat but we don’t know the flavor of the food. This is a state of forgetfulness, the lack of mindfulness.  To be truly present we have to stop our thinking. This is the secret of success.

For me, the “sometimes” part of the above quote could really be changed to most of the time. I tend to eat the same way I do practically everything. Fast.  Distracted.  Preferably while doing and thinking about a million tiny little things.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy eating, because in fact I do, and very much.  Unfortunately, I’m clearly guilty of not being present when eating, and missing the flavor of my food.  My mind is always busy elsewhere, even if I’m not reading or listening to something.  Removing distractions is one thing, but actually making my mind present is a huge struggle so far.

Eating mindfully is a work in progress.  In truth, I’ve only been doing it for a few days.  Some days and meals have been easier than others and I’m still battling that tendency to have something going on in the background, even if it’s just the voice in my head.

Sitting and looking at your food the entire time is an exercise in patience.  Taking the time to enjoy the taste, smell and texture is something I’ll have to continually remind myself to do.

So far though, I’ve notice some significant changes in how I eat:

Satiety kicks in…it goes without saying that eating quickly and mindlessly doesn’t allow your natural stomach receptors to alert you that you’ve eaten enough.  For vegans, this is likely because vegan food tastes so good.  Dang you vegan food, for being so tasty that I’m constantly eating like I’m in a vegan hot dog eating contest with Paula Deen.

I have a lot of company, though.  Most people eat too quickly.   Judging from how long it takes me to eat now, that I’m eating mindfully, I would say everyone eats too quickly.

Letting your natural satiety signals kick in rather than eating so quickly that you’re uncomfortably full before finally realizing it has a number of benefits, including better digestion and weight loss.

Imagine how appreciative your body will be if you’re not taxing your poor, overworked digestive system by dumping tons of food down the pipe at once?

Then imagine you eat slow enough to avoid that bloated-whale-washed-up-on-the-beach feeling that we all get after overdoing it.

My experiment with eating mindfully is intriguing.  So far, I’ve really enjoyed learning How To Eat  after 46 years of getting it wrong.

Consider the practice of eating mindfully.  You might be surprised at how your body and mind respond to focusing on this important and pleasurable task.

Thanks for reading!

EatPlantsLiveWell!