By Igne Aleliunas for Summersalt Yoga
Mindfulness, nowness, conscious living – it’s all the fad right now, but there’s something to be learned from slowing down and actually paying attention to what we do, consume and… eat. When was the last time you really enjoyed a meal? What did you have for breakfast last Saturday? If you can’t really tell, it’s time to practice mindful eating.
The Buddhist experience
The concept of mindful eating has its roots in Buddhist teachings. In Buddhist monasteries, mealtime is a serious affair – the food is consumed attentively and gratefully and often in complete silence. It helps focus and really experience food; it also slows down time. Little by little, people outside of Buddhism have also adopted this concept, finding it a relaxing and natural process. They have also expanded the concept, by including not only how you eat but also what and how much you eat. Often people don’t really think about what or how they’re eating – they’re distracted by their lives, latest TV shows or their Instagram feed. Here’s where mindful eating comes along – it pulls you into the moment, making you more focused and concentrated. Mindful eating is a very flexible concept – it can be as simple or as complicated as one might like. It can only be about eating slowly. But, once broadened, the concept can include the process of cooking, carefully choosing the ingredients or even growing and harvesting them. Mindful eating is wonderfully versatile and, contrary to what one might think, it is easily adaptable even in the most hectic of lives. Like with most practices, it takes time and dedication, but in the end it is absolutely worth it.
Slow down and appreciate
We live in a fast-paced world. Ideally, it would be wonderful to always have the time to set up the perfect meal, to eat exactly what you want, when you want and how you want it. But deadlines, meetings, chores, family issues and hundreds of other important things make it virtually impossible to do just that. So a sandwich on the go it is! But even a simple sandwich can create the perfect meal, if we take a minute and appreciate the taste, the texture. Just take the time to savor a bite or two, try to understand what you like or maybe don’t like about the sandwich. Think about everything it took for you to be able to eat it – the bread to bake and slice, the veggies to grow, the few minutes it took for you or someone else to assemble it. That’s what mindful eating is all about – taking the time to appreciate, to smell and really taste your food. This also works even if you only have the time to eat a banana – pick it up, weight it in your hand, smell its sweet aroma, notice the bruises and brown spots, then start peeling and eating it bite by bite, feeling the mushy texture, the subtle sweetness… And once done, move on with your busy life.
Amp it up
Concentrating on what and how you eat is a great exercise in mindfulness. It’s like an anchor, pulling you down to the now, even if it’s for a short while. But the real beauty of mindful eating comes from treating yourself to a lavish and satisfying meal in a pleasant environment. The experience begins well in advance, first by deciding what you’ll be eating. Ask yourself, what exactly you’re craving – it’s the body’s way of telling what it’s lacking or needing at the moment. Then take the time to prepare the meal or, alternately, choose a restaurant that will satisfy that craving. Remember: there are no forbidden foods in mindful eating – everything’s a go, depending on your dietary needs. Want that piece of chocolate? Just eat it! When you satisfy a craving, it stays satisfied. And if you deny it, it just keeps on growing, until you overeat or eventually settle for a less satisfying alternative.
If you decide to eat at home (be it homemade or delivered), create a pleasant environment. You don’t need a spacious dining room or a patio overlooking the ocean – maybe light a candle, choose your favorite plate and cutlery, open the window and let in some breeze or even make an impromptu picnic on your living room floor. Again, it’s about asking yourself what you need and want at the moment – it keeps us in tune with ourselves. Once you serve the food, take a beat to appreciate it, make a mental picture, smell it and then finally taste it. Eat slowly, noticing how taste and texture change as you chew the food. Ask yourself, whether you’re already full, or if there’s more room left. If you’re alone, eat in silence; if you’re with someone, take some time to savor the meal before resuming your conversation. Don’t check your phone and refrain from reading a book or a magazine, unless that was your goal – a good read and a plate of cheesy tacos. That, too, is a form of mindful eating, provided that you consciously chose to eat like that.
Long term benefits
Not only does mindful eating bring back the focus to the present, it actually might help decrease the instances of overeating. By listening to what your body wants, you ensure that it gets what it actually needs – all the nutrients, vitamins and calories. So, for example, a post-workout meal might be more generous, whereas the I’ve-been-lounging-all-Sunday dinner might be smaller and lighter. Just ask your body and it will tell. When we eat slowly and stop to ask ourselves how full we are, we actually consume just the right amount of food – we get up from the table neither too hungry, nor too full. This, in turn, ensures a healthy and happy body with just the right amount of energy to work, create, exercise and have fun!
Although mindful eating is a good practice to include in your daily life, don’t make it the be-all and end-all of your life, don’t obsess about it. Enjoy eating, since food was made to be enjoyable. Ultimately, it’s your experience that matters, so if you really want to eat some pizza while watching Netflix, go for it! As long as it’s a conscious decision, all’s well and good.