This week a group of about 25 women met together as part of a program that would help all of us become more healthy. As someone who often lacks personal discipline, I find that being a part of a larger group helps me to be accountable and it also provides a sense of solidarity and mutual encouragement when the going gets tough. One of the commitments we made was to eat in healthier ways. I’m not a big fan of diets but I do like the idea of feeling better about my food choices, which in turn makes me feel better physically and psychologically as well.
The first big test of my more disciplined eating practice came when I ate at the dining hall with my husband for our weekly cheap date at the caf. We actually look forward to this little ritual, l and I didn’t want to ruin it by focusing solely on what was on my plate or how big my servings were. Instead I decided to think less about the “what” I was eating and more on the “how” I was dining. I read somewhere that putting your fork or spoon down after each bite was a good practice, so I ate my entire meal much more slowly and mindfully. Not only did I end up eating less but I enjoyed it more. Slowing down the pace of my dining helped me to appreciate the different tastes and textures as well as the different colors and shapes on the plate. Eating dinner went from scarfing down dinner, without too much thought, to savoring and taking pleasure in every little thing that was on my plate. Dining mindfully is a concept taught by the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book: Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.
Hanh encourages several practices for the mindful eater which I’ve adapted below:
- Before beginning to eat, take time to be grateful for the food that is in front of you. If you aren’t comfortable with verbal prayer or grace, simply take a few minutes in silent thanksgiving.
- Use all your senses as you enjoy your meal. Pay attention to the colors and shapes you see. Smell deeply whatever aromas you sense. Enjoy the different textures from the crispness of the veggies to the smooth and creamy texture of a soup. Allow the food to hang out in your mouth long enough to really notice the flavors from hot and spicy to sweet or savory.
- Try not to let your eyes be bigger than your stomach. Begin with smaller servings than usual and perhaps even use a slightly smaller bowl or plate. As you slow down the pace of your eating, you’ll feel satisfied sooner and won’t need as much as you might imagine to fill up.
- Small is beautiful – both in your bites as well as your portions.
- Although it may seem counterintuitive, don’t skip meals. Allowing oneself to get too hungry makes it that much harder to eat mindfully. Eat sitting down and make mealtime a priority.
- Try disconnecting from technology in order to connect to your eating. Watching the TV or checking our phones is an easy rut to get into. However, in a world in which so many go hungry, eating food is a privilege and a blessing to be fully appreciated rather than rushed through with distractions and interruptions.
I recognize that eating mindfully may seem impossible with our schedules and the demands on our time and energy. However, I suspect that if a person tried even one or two of these practices on a more regular basis, they would become more mindful, more grateful and ultimately healthier.
One final thought from Thich Nhat Hanh:
“A few years ago, I asked some children, “What is the purpose of eating breakfast? One boy replied, “To get energy for the day.” Another said, “The purpose of eating breakfast is to eat breakfast.” I think the second child is more correct.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, How to Eat