How often have you eaten on the run or tried to eat while you are reading, talking on the phone etc? I know I am guilty of having done those things.
In recent years, I’ve learned to respect food more and make every meal a ritual of sorts. For this, I must give credit to José. Since most often the food is prepared by either one or both of us, eating and enjoying it together is important.
Some years ago, I read about the whole concept of mindful eating. This has its roots in Buddhism. Disciples of Buddhism are encouraged to try various forms of meditation – focusing on their breathing, or meditating in different postures while sitting, standing or walking. Similarly they are encouraged to meditate while eating. This creates more consciousness about what they are eating and to focus on the present moment.
However this practice has received secular attention too. Experts say that when we focus on what we are eating and savour each morsel, the food not only tastes better but we eat less and more healthy too. Binge eating, comfort eating and overeating can all be prevented by us becoming more conscious of what we eat, when we eat and why we eat when we do!
Dr Lillian Cheung, Lecturer and Director of Health Promotion & Communication at the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition, has dedicated herself to promoting this concept. She co-authored with the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh to write Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.
The rhythm of life is becoming faster and faster, so we really don’t have the same awareness and the same ability to check into ourselves. That’s why mindful eating is becoming more important. We need to be coming back to ourselves and saying: ‘Does my body need this? Why am I eating this? Is it just because I’m so sad and stressed out?’
~ Dr Lillian Cheung
So what are the practices of mindful eating?
Often, those of us who are privileged, take food for granted. We don’t take time to recall where the food is coming from – all the work that went into getting it onto our plate. This is especially true when we eat packaged food. I’ve realized, from my own experience, that when I make food from scratch I enjoy it so much more. It’s important for us to take time to prepare our own meals and preferably from fresh ingredients. We must learn to honour the food we eat.
I would also like to add that it’s important to say a word of thanks to God and the Universe recalling to your mind all the hands that toiled to get that food on your plate – starting from the farmers and moving up the whole cycle. A word of thanks to the person who prepared it too is important.
I particularly recall an episode of the Kylie Kwong Show in which shetravels to Shandong, the homeland of Confucius. This master of philosophy is also considered the father of Chinese culinary arts. I was amazed at how important Confucius considered the preparation and presentation of food. He said that colour, aroma, flavour and texture are most important in food. We are encouraged to engage all the senses when eating. Although it’s considered bad manners, I love to smell food before eating it. Do you?
It is suggested that that we use smaller plates to eat – the larger the plate, the more you eat. Being aware of the serving size helps us not to overeat.
We tend to serve ourselves more when we are distracted. Therefore, it’s important that we don’t multi-task – when you eat, you eat. 🙂
Chewing food leads to better digestion and assimilation of the nutrients in our food. This is because when we chew our food properly, digestive enzymes are released that help in the absorption of nutrients. We are advised to chew 20-30 times before we swallow. One good practice is to lay down the fork/spoon between mouthfuls.
It is important to signal the end of a meal to oneself by getting up from the table and clearing it. In a restaurant, we could request the waiter to clear our plate. When we hang around unfinished food, there’s a tendency to keep eating. Sometimes, not having good ways to store food, makes us eat to finish it, thus leading to overeating.
Finally, after we have eaten, we should become aware of how the food we ate makes us feel. Some foods make us feel energetic, some make us feel thirsty, others puffed up. All these are signals of the food choices we should make in the future.
Even as I write this post, I’m becoming more aware of how much more I have to incorporate the practices of mindful eating into my life. Do you practice mindful eating?