An Introduction To Everyday Mindful Eating
Experiencing the Five Foodie Senses
Have you ever wondered why people clink their glasses together and exclaim, “Cheers!” before a meal or celebration? It’s not for good luck or to ward off evil spirits as some urban mythology claims. Historically, people clinked their glasses for the ringing sound so that they could experience all five senses. They’d already seen, smelled, tasted, and touched the drinking vessel. The toast made it a full sensory experience.
Tradition and toasts aside, when was the last time you engaged all of your senses while eating? Don’t worry if the answer is, “not lately.” During my own meals, I often struggle to stay seated, be present, and avoiding checking emails on my phone. However difficult it may be, when I’m able to focus my attention and immerse myself in the sights, smells, tastes, and all the incredible sensations of eating, it is game-changing.
Establishing a Healthy Relationship With Food
We can practice mindfulness—a non-judgmental awareness of the moment—to improve our relationships with our food and eating experiences. “Mindfulness gives us an awareness of what we’re doing, and often, why we’re doing it,” writes Jan Chozen Bays, MD in “Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship.” A renowned physician, meditation teacher, and mindful eating advocate, Bays further explains that “within the wide field of mindfulness, we can become aware of the pull toward mindless eating and notice when and how we slip into it.”
Besides awareness, we establish a truly healthy relationship with food when we make mindful decisions long before our first bite. According to Bay, “Our struggles with food can cause tremendous distress and suffering. Whether we have a tendency to overeat or under eat, or we just feel conflicted about eating, the practice of mindfulness can help us to rediscover a healthy and joyful relationship with food.”
Consider asking yourself these questions to practice mindful eating. These inquiries alone can elicit powerful changes in your eating patterns:
Are you truly hungry? How does that hunger feel?
Are you hungry for something specific? Try to name it and explore what you are craving.
What are you tasting, smelling, touching, seeing, maybe even hearing?
How does your food make you feel before, during, and after consumption?
The Raisin Meditation: A Traditional Mindful Eating Exercise
This particular practice is the most commonly taught. Sometimes it’s called, “The Raisin Meditation,” and it only takes about five minutes. If you aren’t into raisins (raising my hand), choose something else—anything, really—like a cranberry, a cracker, or a small piece of fruit.
The meditation involves focusing your five senses on this one item. Take a seat, enjoy a deep breath, and hold the food in the palm of your hand. Begin by looking at the food, inspecting it carefully as if you’ve never laid eyes on it before. Touch and feel the texture of the food as you roll it between your forefinger and thumb. Smell the food and notice its aroma. Then place the food in your mouth, and slowly begin to chew and taste the flavors as if for the very first time. Make the conscious decision to swallow the food, and imagine it nourishing your body.
At the end of this meditation, it’s helpful to take a few deep breaths, pause, and consider how the exercise made you feel. While it is only a five-minute practice, you can extend the meditation for longer, or repeat it with a drink.
How to make mindful eating a part of your everyday life
Just like any new skill, weaving mindful eating into your day-to-day takes practice. Even the smallest efforts to eat your food mindfully can be deeply nourishing. By learning to notice and understand our bodies’ hunger, cravings, fullness, and thirst cues, we can begin to see how food isn’t solely positive, negative, or something we need to control. Instead, we can eat with enjoyment and hold a deep appreciation for our food.
Here are a few tips for making mindful eating a part of your everyday routine:
Try to get specific about where you feel hunger—is your hunger physical or mental?
Notice if you are focused during meals, or if you tend to eat on the fly.
When does mindless eating happen for you most often? And why?
Take a breath (or three!) before and after eating and drinking. Relax your body.
Put down your fork or spoon between bites.
Choose your favorite plates, bowls, utensils, etc. to make your meals beautiful and special.
While practicing mindful eating can help you establish positive eating habits, this should not be substituted for the actual treatment of an eating disorder. If you are struggling to build a healthy relationship with your food, please seek professional help.
Based in the beautiful city of Portland, Maine, Katherine Oakes Englishman is a writer and yoga teacher with a passion for empowering others to live a more conscious and connected life. She is a contributing writer for The Good Trade, Wayward Collective and pens articles on outdoor travel as the East Coast correspondent at Bearfoot Theory; Katherine is also the former web editor of Pure Green Magazine. Offline, you can find her on a yoga mat or in pursuit of adventure in the wilds of Maine and the neighboring White Mountains.