By Christine A. Scheller
The day is flying by. You’re running from meeting to meeting and need to refuel. Perhaps you choose your meal poorly -- and regret it later. But have you ever scarfed down a perfectly delicious meal without appreciating it? Mindful eating -- chewing slowly and savoring the smell, taste and sensation of food -- helps us achieve wellbeing and "brings to the surface the rich abundance of life available to us in every moment," writes Lilian Cheung, director of health promotion and communication at the Harvard School of Public Health and coauthor (with Thich Nhat Hanh) of Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.
Everyone has reasons for not eating mindfully, though. Reasons like:
But... I only have 15 minutes to eat. "When we eat mindfully and with awareness, we choose foods that we not only like, but those that are also good for our health and wellbeing," says Cheung. In other words, savoring your food is well worth the few extra minutes -- and you can do it no matter how much time you have.
But... I’m starving! Hunger pangs can be relentless. For that reason, Cheung advises that people center themselves with a few deep breaths before eating. "Eat slowly," she says, "so that you really enjoy it and get the food connection." (Eating slowly will help you eat less, too: It takes 20 minutes for your brain to realize you're full.)
But... when I'm craving something, I can't control myself. Ah, the mindless potato-chip binge... "We're beginning to learn more from neuroscience that eating the 'wrong' foods -- i.e., foods that are high in sugars and fats -- may overpower the pleasure centers in the brain, causing us to eat more and more despite the fact that we're full," says Cheung. Mindful eating helps us consider the impact of our food choices before we make them.
But... I can't unplug when I eat, because of work. "Mindful eating encourages us to eat with other people, instead of eating alone with the TV and our smartphones," says Cheung. Doing that allows us to be fully present with one another and gives us a better sense of one another’s state of being. When it comes to colleagues, a shared meal may take us further than a fast email reply.
But... mealtimes are chaotic in my house. "By being fully immersed in the present moment, eating slowly, and engaging all our senses, we get more pleasure from the sight, form, texture, sound, and aroma, as well as the taste of the food that we're eating," notes Cheung. Be the oasis of calm at your table. Model mindful eating for your children. Just because everyone else is scarfing their food down doesn’t mean you have to.
But... I like to eat dinner in front of the TV. It’s impossible to fully immerse oneself in a dining experience when you're watching TV. Sitting at the table, however, can set the stage for a mindful meal -- so make your dining space a supportive one, says Cheung. Attractive placemats and a single flower on the table can subtly transform the environment. "Every human society is known to value eating together as socially and emotionally important," says Rachel Marie Stone, author of Eat with Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food. "When we eat together with others, we acknowledge our bodily needs and also establish some sort of community -- communion! -- with them."
Adds Cheung, "Eating mindfully not only nourishes both our bodies and our minds, it also helps us to feel grateful and compassionate."