Once, twice or three times each day, the kitchens in our homes come to life as we prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner from a seemingly endless variety of ingredients. Although our meals assuredly come with mouthwatering aromas, vibrant colors and intoxicating tastes for us to enjoy, the vast majority of us don’t seize these opportunities and instead systematically scarf down our food while remaining centered in our heads. It’s precisely because we’ve become so conditioned to eat for our survival that our conscious attention isn’t required when consuming the food that we need. Unfortunately, for most of us, because we chow down while on mental autopilot, usually thinking about the troubling events of our lives and the world at large, we never fully enjoy the bountiful benefits that come from mindful eating. This, however, doesn’t have to be this way.
Just as there is a dizzying selection of fresh produce for us to choose from at the local grocery store, there is a similarly glutenous assortment of benefits that come from the practice of mindful eating. Undeniably, by truly being present with a plate of freshly cooked food, we’re able to reconnect with the wonders of our earth while naturally stirring up life-affirming feelings of gratitude. Additionally, as you’ll soon discover, the practice of eating mindfully can help us improve our physical, mental and emotional health no matter where we’re starting from. When boiling the practice down to it’s basics, Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food author Dr. Jan Chosen Bays perfectly describes the transformative power of mindful eating when saying:
Mindful eating replaces self-criticism with self-nurturing. It replaces shame with respect for your own inner wisdom.”
The Practice of Mindful Eating:
In the simplest of terms, the practice of mindful eating revolves around bringing the ancient Buddhist meditative skill of mindfulness with us to the tables we eat our meals upon. Although being mindful, or intentionally paying attention to whatever is happening in the present moment with non-judgmental acceptance, has been used for hundreds of centuries by practitioners of the Buddhist faith as a way to increase their levels of happiness, it has only gained popularity in the western world over the past two decades. In the estimation of modest Buddhist monks who utilize and teach activities such as mindful eating, and others such as walking meditation, there are clear benefits that come from living with true present-moment awareness. Recently, western medical professionals have verified a number of these benefits with evidence based-research that shows how individuals can overcome mental illness, break free from troubling habits and increase their levels of subjective well-being by slowing down a continuous flow of automatic thoughts, which are usually self-referential and negative, and disassociating themselves from them. Now, to gain a better understanding of what exactly mindful eating is all about, we can turn our attention to celebrated Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahh, who beautifully explains the practice of eating mindfully in this short video:
As you can now hopefully see, to practice the art of mindful eating, one would simply bring the intention to eat with present-moment awareness to their meal and use their senses to absorb themselves in the experience. They’d focus their attention on the pleasant aromas, vivid colors, and rich tastes of the food, as well as the people they’re sharing the meal with and environmental surroundings, without allowing their minds to pull them in any number of different directions. Instead of aimlessly chowing down, they’d eat slowly with deep appreciation for the edible gifts they are consuming. Whenever their minds wander, which will inevitably happen, they’d want to notice with non-judgmentally awareness and gently return themselves to eating mindfully. Psychologist and author of numerous mindful eating books Dr. Susan Albers tells us:
Mindful eating is about awareness. When you eat mindfully, you slow down, pay attention to the food you’re eating, and savor every bite.”
Wholesome Benefits that Sprout from Eating Mindfully:
Regardless of one’s physical fitness levels and dietary habits, it is certain that each and everyone of us can enjoy a variety of spiritual and scientific benefits that naturally sprout from the practice of mindful eating. By simply slowing down to gratefully savor the food we eat at each meal, we’ll soon recognize advantages that come from eating this way at the physical, emotional and cognitive levels. For those who’ve already undertaken a mindful eating practice, the following four benefits will assuredly be recognizable, but for those who have not, they can serve as important kernels of motivation that show how the practice increases one’s general levels of subjective well-being:
Helps us Reconnect with People & the Earth:
From a spiritual perspective, one of the surest benefits we can obtain from mindful eating is a renewed sense of connection both to the people we eat our meals with and the wondrous earth from where our food comes. When we’re actually present during breakfast, lunch and dinner, instead of surfing the web on our smartphones or allowing our minds to jump from thought to another, our relationships with meal-partners naturally begin to blossom. Additionally, by getting in touch with the food we eat, we’ll come to realize how fortunate we are and begin to feel connected to the world at large. Thich Nhat Hanh tells us of the spiritual power of mindful eating:
If you truly get in touch with a piece of carrot, you get in touch with the soil, the rain, the sunshine. You get in touch with Mother Earth and eating in such a way, you feel in touch with true life, your roots, and that is meditation. If we chew every morsel of our food in that way we become grateful and when you are grateful, you are happy.”
Improves Our Relationship with Food:
In addition to helping us reconnect with people and the earth, mindful eating can similarly reconnect us with our own physical bodies in a way that improves our relationship with food. By undertaking the practice, each of us will begin to differentiate between eating when we’re hungry and eating out of habit, and also, because the practice makes us aware of important body cues that tell us when enough is enough, stop ourselves from over-indulging. Thanks to an ever-expanding base of scientific research looking at the effectiveness mindfulness has on people’s relationship with food, we now know that the practice can help individuals overcome a wide range of problematic eating habits and disorders such as binge eating, emotional eating, anorexia and bulimia.
Naturally Leads to a Healthier Diet:
Another vastly important benefit that sprouts from mindful eating is that it naturally results in individuals developing healthier diets. Because the practice forces us to tune into our body’s cues, we intuitively begin to see what we’re actually getting from the foods we eat. After we become aware of the objectionable affects of greasy fried food, fatty meats and sugary deserts, we’ll naturally start to disassociate ourselves from cravings for these things and begin desiring healthier options. Spiritual researcher and author of nine mindfulness-based books Natasa Pantovic Nuit tells us:
We do food every single day! Conscious eating is a big step toward conscious living. quality and quantity of food is directly related to our Health and state of mind. We can use food to help us recover from stress and disease. Not taking food seriously will eventually lead to stress or/and disease.”
Can be an Indispensable Weight Loss Tool:
When considering diet and weight loss statistics in the United States, in addition to the mindful eating benefits we’ve already examined, it becomes apparent to see why the practice is an indispensable tool for losing weight. Although Americans collectively supply the diet and weight loss industries with over $60 billion annually, for example, two-thirds of adults (68.8%) are still considered overweight and over one-third (35.7%) are considered obese. Additionally, it’s estimated that around 50% of Americans try to lose weight each year, yet 90-95% of people who actually do shed pounds gain them back within one to five years. Fortunately, because it helps us get in touch with our bodies and fix our underlying relationship with food, the practice of mindful eating can help us lose weight and actually keep it off.
Nurturing Our Mindful Eating Practice:
While the instructions to practice mindful eating should be quite simple for anyone to grasp, to fully reap the bountiful benefits that sprout from consciously consuming food in the present moment, it’ll be imperative to nurture our mindfulness capabilities. Just as a farmer must give loving attention and care to his crops to enjoy a good harvest, so to must we nourish our mindful eating abilities to fully attain the practice’s unearthly rewards. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of steps that we can take to improve both our levels of mindfulness and our understanding of mindful eating. While your options certainly aren’t limited to the following three, they’re undeniably some of the best to get started:
Hit the Meditation Cushion:
Although it may be easy to assume that your mindful eating practice should start and end at the kitchen table, the truth is that it’s vitally important to develop your mindfulness capabilities with a regular sitting meditation practice. In fact, you ability to eat mindfully will undoubtedly be dependent on the work you do sitting on the cushion. Because we have been continually conditioned to eat mindlessly, and also because each and every meal comes with a plethora of attention grabbing external stimuli, regularly practicing meditation in a silent and distraction free environment will be essential to your success.
Cultivate the Intention & Setup Mindful Eating Reminders:
Due to the fact that you’ve most likely become more and more conditioned to eat on mental autopilot, it’ll be necessary to continuously remind yourself of your habit changing intentions, and can also be useful to setup a number of mindful eating reminders. By regularly reminding yourself of the reasons eating mindfully is important for you, you’ll help naturally shift your ways of thinking about the process of consuming food. Moreover, to really set the wheels in motion, it can be extremely useful to setup mindful eating reminders in the form of something visible like a ‘be mindful’ sticker placed on your kitchen table or an alarm on your phone close to the times you normally eat.
Utilize Mindful Eating Resources & Tools:
While undertaking a regular meditation practice, cultivating the intention to eat mindfully and setting up mindful eating reminders will certainly put you on the path to developing a beneficial practice, you’ll be able to take it to the next level by utilizing a variety of relevant resources and tools. Since the practice of mindful eating has grown tremendously in popularity over the past two decades, there’s been an ever-expanding number of websites, books and Apps that you can use to most effectively develop your practice. For example, you may want to consider visiting The Center for Mindful Eating’s website, explore books such as Eating Mindfully and Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, written by the previously mentioned Susan Albers and Thich Nhat Hanh respectively, and download Apps dedicated to the practice of mindful eating such as Eat Right Now.
Because the vast majority of us have gone way too long without really enjoying a meal in the present moment, and also because there are a plethora of benefits that sprout from eating mindfully, now is as good of a time as ever to begin developing a mindful eating practice. Now, to end this article, we’ll leave you with one more piece of advice from the celebrated Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh:
Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future; live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.”