Eating is a simple gesture that we do 3 times a day without giving it much importance. In today's world, where we have practically lost touch with where our food comes from, with the production chain and all the steps that go into bringing food to our plate: eating is taken for granted.
Gone are the days when we had to go hunting or gathering to eat. We go to the grocery store where there is a phenomenal amount of food from all over the world. We can even choose to buy what we want most. Even though we are fortunate to have access to so much food every day, food has never been so stressful. We don't have time to eat consciously, we eat quickly, while working. We don't take the time to feel gratitude for the foods that nourish our cells and allow us to live much longer than our ancestors. We worry about the effect of food on our appearance, we observe restrictions, or we use food to alleviate the constant stress of our current lifestyle. Learning to eat mindfully can go a long way in improving our relationship with food and has many health benefits.
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is simply an informal form of mindfulness meditation. It is about paying attention to everything that surrounds eating, whether it is the food itself, the action of eating (chewing, swallowing, etc.) It is also about becoming aware of one's relationship with food, one's eating behaviors, as well as thoughts, emotions and body sensations related to eating. In other words, mindful eating can be a very specific practice where the food becomes the object of meditation, but it can also be a broader concept where we explore our relationship to food.
Part of being grateful is taking the time to realize the entire food production chain, that is, all the people and work that went into making the food reach our plate. Gratitude for our food is also symbolically thanking the farmers, the transporters, the grocery clerks who placed the food for us to buy, the grocery store cashier, and even feeling gratitude for having the financial privilege to go shopping every week.
Taking time to eat
We can take a few deep conscious breaths before eating to allow the nervous system to go into parasympathetic mode, the mode in which it can digest and assimilate nutrients. Ideally, when practicing mindful eating, one should avoid eating too quickly or in front of a screen or while being distracted by a task that requires a lot of attention. Eating mindfully will necessarily increase the duration of the meal since we will be in a state of internalization.
Meditating on food and eating
To meditate on the action of eating, we can for example focus our attention on our hand, the utensil we are holding and the gesture of our hand that will bring the food to our mouth while realizing that our body knows exactly how to do this movement without even thinking about it. Then, to take the experience further, we can also use the food as an object of meditation and focus our attention on the smell and color of the food, its shapes, etc. We will also become aware of the texture of the food and the way it is eaten. We will also become aware of the texture and temperature of the food in the mouth, the chewing motion, the swallowing and then the effect of the food as it enters our body and moves down the digestive tract.
Becoming aware of our behaviors and food choices
Finally, we can eventually do an introspection exercise on the effect of food on us, that is to say, observe our current diet and see how it makes us feel: Energized? tired? bloated? You don't need to change your diet to practice mindfulness, you just need to pay attention to your current food choices to understand how they affect you, your thoughts, your emotions and your body sensations.
Taking the time to feel each step of the meal allows us to be in closer relationship with our food, but also our body. Being 100% present to the action of eating will increase the pleasure of eating tenfold, increase the flavor of the food and satisfy us even more but with less. In a world where we eat quickly, without really tasting, it is normal that we eat too much. We fill ourselves with food until we feel "full". However, when we let our taste buds savor each food, satisfaction is more easily achieved, which can help us ingest only what we really need.
Improved relationship with food
By becoming aware of our thoughts about food, which are closely related to our relationship with food, it becomes easier to make better choices. For example, restrictive thoughts about food will lead to restrictive behaviors, which often lead to compulsions later on. By becoming aware of our thoughts about food, we can get to the root of the problem. By acting on the nature of our thoughts through the practice of meditation and by recognizing that thoughts are only phenomena of the mind, not facts, this can contribute to healthier eating behaviors. In addition, a few studies show positive effects of mindfulness meditation interventions on binge eating behaviors.
Improved health and well-being
When we take the time to eat and make the effort to observe the effect of food on our bodies, thoughts and emotions, it automatically becomes easier to make healthier food choices for ourselves. We learn to recognize the real sensations of hunger and satiety for example. Slowing down the action of eating and taking the time to chew also gives the body time to produce enough digestive enzymes and perform each step of digestion properly, allowing for better assimilation and digestion since digestion begins as soon as the food is in the mouth.
Finally, the body has this innate wisdom to inform us of what is good for us, but we often do not listen to its signals. When we know that many health problems are associated with poor dietary choices, this is where mindfulness can even be part of a disease prevention context!