Those who know me personally, know I have a terrible habit of inhaling my food. I always use the excuse that my dad was a fireman before microwave ovens were invented, so we all learned to eat quickly in case the fire alarm rang- but truth is there really is no excuse for eating at supersonic speed.
You’ve guessed it. This week’s challenge involves becoming aware of that reflexive urge to plow through your meal like Cookie Monster on a shortbread bender. Resist it. Leave the fork on the table. Chew slowly. Stop talking. Tune in to the texture of the food, savor the flavor, smell the aroma rising from the steam, look carefully at the bright color and the beautiful shape.
Continue this way throughout the course of a meal, and you’ll experience the eye-opening pleasure of a practice known as mindful eating.
Mindful eating is about experiencing food more intensely — especially the pleasure of it. You can eat a cheeseburger mindfully, if you wish. You might enjoy it a lot more. Or you might decide, halfway through, that your body has had enough. Or that it really needs some salad.
Dr. Jan Chozen Bays, a pediatrician and meditation teacher in Oregon and the author of “Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food said, ” “I think the fundamental problem is that we go unconscious when we eat.”
That’s why mindful eating is becoming more important. We need to be coming back to ourselves and saying: ‘Does my body need this? Why am I eating this? Is it just because I’m so sad and stressed out?’ ”
The point is focus on the act of eating, as opposed to eating and talking, eating and watching TV, or eating and watching TV and gossiping on the phone while Tweeting and updating one’s Facebook status.
Some experts have claimed “As we practice this regularly, we become aware that we don’t need to eat as much. Whereas when people just gulp down food, they can eat a lot and do not feel full.”
How do we begin? Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re not supposed to be able to switch on your mindfulness button and be able to do it 100 percent. It’s a practice you keep working toward.
Few places in America are as frantically abuzz with activity as the Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., but when Thich Nhat Hanh dropped by for a day of mindfulness in September, hundreds of employees showed up.
Part of the event was devoted to eating thoughtfully in silence, and the practice was so well received that an hourlong wordless vegan lunch is now a monthly observance on the Google campus.
“Interestingly enough, a lot of the participants are the engineers, which pleases us very much,” said Olivia Wu, an executive chef at the company. “I think it quiets the mind. I think there is a real sense of feeling restored so that they can go back to the crazy pace that they came from.”
To help in your personal quest to eat more mindfully here are some tips:
1. Chew Your Food More
Chewing is probably the simplest and most effective way to develop the habit of eating mindfully. Extra chewing results in less overall food intake.
25 chews per bite is recommended, but likely anything over 20 chews will provide a benefit. The most important part is that you choose a number and count your chews until you reach it. The number itself is less consequential.
To help myself remember to chew thoroughly you might want to use a smart phone app such as Reminders! to ping a few minutes before your usual mealtimes with a simple Chew 25 Times reminder.
2. Feed yourself with your non-dominant hand
Making things more difficult is a great way to force yourself to pay attention to what you’re doing. One simple way to do this is to force yourself to eat with your non-dominant hand.
3. Eat every thing with chopsticks for a week
Even if you grew up with chopsticks as your primary utensil, you’ve probably never used them to eat a sandwich or a bag of chips.
I once heard a story about a local tech company that asked a bunch of their employees to use chopsticks exclusively for a week as a mindfulness exercise. Although weight loss was not the goal, everyone in the office lost weight and several reported life changing realizations as a result of the project.
One person dropped his morning bagel habit when he realized that the chopsticks prevented him from experiencing the part of the ritual that he enjoyed the most. Apparently the taste of the bagel was not as appealing as the act of ripping it apart with his hands. Once he realized that actually eating the bagel wasn’t important to him he decided to give it up.
4. Put your fork down between each bite
Putting your fork down between bites of food is an excellent complement to the chewing habit. The act of setting your fork down forces you to focus on chewing your food rather than letting yourself mindlessly pick at your plate for your next bite. It also encourages you to slow down and attend more to the taste of your food, instead of just shoveling it down your throat as quickly as possible.
5. Take your first bite with your eyes closed
An experiment was held in a restaurant where the entire dining experience, including being seated at the table, occurred in the pitch dark. The idea was to focus exclusively on the experience of eating, without the distraction of vision.
While eating all of your meals in the dark, or even with your eyes closed, is not very practical, taking the time to taste your first bite with your full attention can help you eat the rest of your meal more mindfully. Focus on all the flavors in your mouth and how they interact, as well as the smells and textures. This will help you both appreciate your food and eat more slowly.
6. Try to identify every ingredient in your meal
Trying to taste and identify all the different ingredients in your meal is another great way to focus on the present moment and eat more mindfully. This is particularly fun at restaurants, when you didn’t make the food yourself. An added bonus of this technique is it may also help you become more creative in the kitchen.
7. Put your food on a plate
It may sound obvious, but eating out of a bag is not a very mindful practice. Get in the habit of placing even small snacks and desserts on a plate before you eat them. This will force you to acknowledge exactly what and how much you will be eating.
8. Sit at a table
Once your food is on a plate, you may as well go the extra mile to sit at a table. Formalizing your dining experience can help draw your attention to your food and your eating habits.
9. Eat in Silence
Put away your phone, turn off the t.v. Any sensation that you experience outside of taste and smell while you’re eating can distract you and make mindful eating more difficult.
While going through an entire meal in pure silence may be a bit much for most of us, designating the first 3-5 minutes of a meal for quiet and mindful practice can be an effective strategy.
YOUR CHALLENGE FOR THE WEEK BEGINNING MAY 9 IS TO TRY AT LEAST ONE OF THE ABOVE TECHNIQUES AND MAKE A REAL EFFORT TO EAT MORE MINDFULLY FOR AT LEAST ONE MEAL EACH DAY IN ORDER TO EARN YOUR DAILY BONUS POINTS.