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Food For Thought: Health and Mindful Eating

February 20, 2012

TRY this: place a forkful of food in your mouth. It doesn’t matter what the food is, but make it something you love — let’s say it’s that first nibble from three hot, fragrant, perfectly cooked ravioli.

Now comes the hard part. Put the fork down. This could be a lot more challenging than you imagine, because that first bite was very good and another immediately beckons. You’re hungry.

Today’s experiment in eating, however, involves becoming aware of that reflexive urge to plow through your meal like Cookie Monster on a shortbread bender. Resist it. Leave the fork on the table. Chew slowly. Stop talking. Tune in to the texture of the pasta, the flavor of the cheese, the bright color of the sauce in the bowl, the aroma of the rising steam.

Continue this way throughout the course of a meal, and you’ll experience the third-eye-opening pleasures and frustrations of a practice known as mindful eating.

That guided meditation is an excerpt from a New York Times piece that a spiritual guide of mine recently sent me entitled “Mindful Eating as Food For Thought”/”Mindful Eating as a Way to Fight Bingeing” and wasn’t even just that section delicious and enticing? But not only that, it’s spiritually oriented and can improve the health of your mind, body, and soul.

The concept has roots in Buddhist teachings. Just as there are forms of meditation that involve sitting, breathing, standing and walking, many Buddhist teachers encourage their students to meditate with food, expanding consciousness by paying close attention to the sensation and purpose of each morsel.

Mmmmmm…or should I say, Ommmmm?I myself am currently on a spiritual retreat of sorts, having isolated myself in the wilds of the West, and have been focusing on various ways to improve my mental and physical health. Living on my own and cooking generally for 1 and eating by myself, I find that I pay much more attention to each bite that I take, and thus do not feel the need to eat as much (I also have had much more energy recently, and have even lost some weight). And it seems that this mindset and lifestyle can impact so many different areas of our lives, and even our society as a whole.

In the eyes of some experts, what seems like the simplest of acts — eating slowly and genuinely relishing each bite — could be the remedy for a fast-paced Paula Deen Nation in which an endless parade of new diets never seems to slow a stampede toward obesity.

Mindful eating is not a diet, or about giving up anything at all. It’s about experiencing food more intensely — especially the pleasure of it. You can eat a cheeseburger mindfully, if you wish. You might enjoy it a lot more. Or you might decide, halfway through, that your body has had enough. Or that it really needs some salad.

“This is anti-diet…I think the fundamental problem is that we go unconscious when we eat.”

For many people, eating fast means eating more. Mindful eating is meant to nudge us beyond what we’re craving so that we wake up to why we’re craving it and what factors might be stoking the habit of belly-stuffing.

Mindful Eating for the Heart and Soul

Could a discipline pioneered by Buddhist monks and nuns help teach us how to get healthy, relieve stress and shed many of the neuroses that we’ve come to associate with food?

There are many tips in the article as to how to build up a mindful eating practice, starting with simple steps that put us in deeper touch with our body and mind. I have been trying to incorporate simple, personal approaches towards mindful eating recently, and it really has already begun to revolutionize the way I approach food, the relationship I have with what I eat, and the connection between my mind and body. We can all make simple steps, and I was surprised to find that many of the suggestions they make, I have already been doing:

You can still give mindful eating a spin by incorporating a few chilled-out gestures and rituals into your regular calorie intake.

WHEN YOU EAT, JUST EAT. Unplug the electronica. For now, at least, focus on the food.

CONSIDER SILENCE. Avoiding chatter for 30 minutes might be impossible in some families, especially with young children, but specialists suggest that greenhorns start with short periods of quiet.

TRY IT WEEKLY. Sometimes there’s no way to avoid wolfing down onion rings in your cubicle. But if you set aside one sit-down meal a week as an experiment in mindfulness, the insights may influence everything else you do.

PLANT A GARDEN, AND COOK. Anything that reconnects you with the process of creating food will magnify your mindfulness.

CHEW PATIENTLY. It’s not easy, but try to slow down, aiming for 25 to 30 chews for each mouthful.

USE FLOWERS AND CANDLES. Put them on the table before dinner. Rituals that create a serene environment help foster what one advocate calls “that moment of gratitude.”

(Image courtesy of Efzin--Eat Like A Yogi)

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. TBM permalink
    February 21, 2012 10:34 am

    Really nice post. I’ve also heard a lot of studies about how eating more slowly (mindfully) is healthier – your brain has time to process the amount of food going in, and can tell your body in a more timely way when to stop eating.
    On another note, “Paula Deen Nation”?! Oh, no.

  2. February 21, 2012 7:44 pm

    Hope you don’t mind that I linked to this post over on my blog. I think everyone can benefit from these ideas! Thx for sharing it.

  3. sexy curmudgeon permalink
    February 21, 2012 9:06 pm

    This seems to be in the vein of a lot of “food/health movement” writers of the past decade, most notably Michael Pollan and his promotion of the Japanese concept “Hara Hachi Bu,” essentially eating until you’re 80 percent full. I guess the only change I see (a good one! ), is that the author seems to be at least a tiny bit more aware that many attempts to fundamentally restructure the eating habits created by an entire food culture are extremely difficult for middle to to lower income households to implement, particularly ones with children. I think this article at least takes a baby step in the right direction, and it is, in principal anyway, an extremely appealing and ideal lifestyle to live up to.

  4. Joe permalink
    February 22, 2012 5:43 pm

    great article! thanks for bringing it to our attention!

  5. March 7, 2012 6:20 am

    I remember a few years ago I was eating something (more like inhaling it) and I stopped and wondered why I was eating it. I started taking small bites and tasting all the different ingredients in one bite. I did that for about a week and ate a lot less and knew why I ate the foods I did. I think that I might start that again because it really does help to control how much you eat.

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