Mindful eating means bringing our awareness to the food on our plate and in our mouth: paying full attention to the sensations of eating in the present moment. It can transform our relationship with food and is a great way to bring mindfulness into our daily life. Here are some reasons to eat mindfully and a guide to help you get started.
Why try mindful eating?
1. It’s really enjoyable
Food is an incredibly sensuous experience: colors, textures, smell, and taste. But often the demands of day to day life mean we skip past the joys involved in eating. When we eat mindfully, even simple food can feel a lot more enjoyable to eat.
2. Mindful eating can help us eat with moderation
Eating mindlessly can be one reason we overeat. We simply don’t fully notice what we are eating. It also takes some time for our gut to get the message to our brain that we are full up. If we slow down, savor our food and really notice the sensation in our mouth, we can feel very satisfied with our food while eating less. We will also be more aware that our body has had enough.
3. Mindful eating helps with digestion
When we eat mindfully we tend to chew our food more. It might seem like something simple but those extra chews can make it easier for our body to digest the food and make our stomach feel more peaceful after eating.
4. It’s a great way to be mindful everyday
We eat every day so if we can get into the habit of eating mindfully, it is a great way to bring more mindfulness into our daily life.
5. Mindful eating grows our gratitude
Gratitude is seriously good for us. It even changes our brain. It can be a whole lot easier to recognize the good stuff we already have than go chasing after a whole lot more. And if we can really notice the food we are eating, we can feel more appreciation for it every day.
6. It can be a cosmic experience
Thich Nhat Hanh has said that we can see a piece of food as an “ambassador of the cosmos.” If we stop and think about it, it’s true! Rain, sunshine, the work of a farmer are all contained in the humble carrot on our plate. If we take time to connect in that way, even a quick snack can be a cosmic experience.
7. We can connect with our values
Maybe we are trying to reduce our consumption of animal products because we know they are contributing to the climate crisis. Or maybe we want to eat more organic food as we are worried about the effects of pesticides on the countryside. When we eat mindfully, we are more aware of what we are eating and it can be easier to naturally align with our values without a lot of willpower or effort.
Mindful eating: a step by step guide
Convinced to give it a go? Here’s how…
1. Commit to just eating
Often we are eating with our phone in our hand or at our computer screen at work. To eat mindfully we can put away our devices and carve out some time just to eat. Even if that is only a few minutues, it will make a huge difference.
2. Stop and notice
Pause before you eat. Maybe become aware of your breathing for a breath or two. Then see what you notice in the food. The colors, the shapes, any smells. Take a moment to really see what is in front of you.
3. Look a little bit deeper
Spend another moment, looking a bit deeper into the food in front of you. How has it got to the plate in front of you? What and who might have been involved? Can you see the sun and rain in your food? Does any gratitude arise when you contemplate all of the conditions that have come together for this food to be in front of you? Especially when you consider there are many people in the world today who are still hungry.
4. Take a mouthful and then put the fork or spoon down
When the food reaches your mouth, take in all the sensations there are to offer. The taste and texture, the saliva in your mouth.
It can be really interesting to put down your fork or spoon when you chew. It is usually our habit to be preparing the next mouthful while we are chewing our food. It’s a great metaphor for our collective habit to run into the future, while not fully experiencing what is happening right now.
Chew your food a bit longer than usual. Really enjoy the mouthful before picking up the fork or spoon for the next one!
5. Bring your mind back
It is inevitable that your mind will wonder off. One minute you will be savoring the sensations in your mouth, the next your mind will be on errands that need running or even what your next meal will be! This is totally normal. Each time you notice your mind has gone somewhere else, gently guide it back to being aware of eating in the present moment.
6. Ask: where has the food “gone”?
After you have finished eating it can be really illuminating to ask yourself where the food has “gone”. The potatoes or rice will have literally become part of us, absorbed into our body, and they will continue into the future by providing energy for our actions. This is another way we can see interbeing in action.
7. Be kind to yourself
It won’t always be possible to eat mindfully. Sometime we will forget. Sometimes despite our best efforts we will be chewing over our thoughts and plans and missing our mouthfuls. That is ok. Our habit to eat unmindfully is a collective one, and we might have spent many years reinforcing it. See each moment you are able to eat mindfully as a little victory and keep trying.
8. Get some support
Mindful eating is easier with others. When a group of people sit together quietly eating in mindfulness everyone acts as a reminder to everyone else. You can experience mindful eating together at a Plum Village retreat or maybe your local Sangha (mindfulness practice community) organizes mindful meals together and if not you can always suggest one!
If you can’t find others to eat mindfully with the Plum Village app has got your back. This free meditation app has a section on eating meditation including a coffee or tea meditation, tangerine meditation, and The Five Contemplations which are recited at Plum Village practice centers before meals.
We hope you enjoy your mindful eating!