There is a lot of talk these days about mindfulness. What does that really mean? There is a quote from the mindfulness researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn that sums it up nicely. He says, “paying attention on purpose in the present moment, nonjudgementally.”
An emphasized part of mindfulness is the idea of being in the present moment. Practices such as yoga, Qiqong and meditation can help people to tune in and become more aware of that present moment. I also like that Jon Kabat-Zinn includes the word nonjudgmentally. This I think is a less recognized part of mindfulness. Including this word is emphasizing that one should be aware in the present moment and also not judging oneself or ones thoughts. Mindfulness is about just being without interpretation or guilt.
I had never before thought about the idea that this same practice can be applied to eating. In fact, mindful eating is in itself a type of meditation that brings us into awareness of the present moment. This realization is powerful because eating is something that we do every day. This idea is also profound because of how unmindfully we do most of our eating. We often shovel food in our mouths without really even acknowledging it. We eat out of stress, sadness or boredom. Many of us eat in front of the TV, the computer or in our cars.
In reality eating should be a sacred act. We are literally placing the earth, rain and sun into our bodies as nourishment. It is no coincidence that most cultures have ritual, prayer and sacrifice as a precursor to meals. It is an opportunity to be mindful, to stop and to be grateful for the labor and nature that are sitting on your plate.
There are simple mindfulness exercises you can do with food that can be quite powerful. Take a piece of fruit such as a berry or an apple and just look at it. Think about the color, where it came from and what it will taste like. Notice that your mouth will likely start to salivate. Take a smell with your eyes closed. Then slowly take a bite, letting the food just sit in your mouth before slowly chewing. Chew at least ten times and then slowly swallow feeling the food descend down your throat. Notice how different this feels from your usual bite.
The nonjudgmental part of Job Kabat-Zinn’s quote is also important when it comes to being mindful about food. There is a lot of self-judgment when it comes to eating. We eat a box of cookies out of sadness or stress and then we ourselves up. Part of being mindful is replacing that judgment simply with being aware. Being aware of what you are eating and why. As I heard a lecturer say, we don’t stumble over one step and then say “well I might as well just fall down the whole staircase,” or if we run one red light we don’t throw up our hands and say “I guess I’m going to run all the lights.” So, why do we make ourselves feel guilty about eating one cookie and then resign ourselves to eating the entire box.
Practicing mindful eating is one step that is critical to leading a more mindful life. I encourage you to try the exercise I outlined above, stop and take a few slow breaths before your next meal, thank the food and thank yourself and share your meal with a person rather than a screen. If you want more information and tools to help you with eating mindfully this is a great site.