Five Ways to Zen Your Food Experience Written By: Nicole Makin, MACP, RCC
Mindful eating is an ancient practice of eating with the intention of taking care of yourself and of giving the experience the attention required to notice the flavors of the food and experience its effects on your body. In honor of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, let’s take some time to reflect on our personal relationship with food.
The more we learn to pay attention to ourselves and connect with our emotional and physical needs and experiences, the better equipped we are to make healthy choices with food. The benefits of mindful eating include:
- – Reduced anxiety around food
- – Improved digestion
- – Less frequent binge eating
- – Coping more effectively with eating disorders
- – Better managing diabetes and other chronic diseases
Since we all spend time with food each day, eating is a natural opportunity to practice mindfulness in daily life. Here are some tips to zen your food experience!
1) Be compassionate with yourself. Eating is an activity that allows us to connect intimately with ourselves and our bodies. Registered dietician Marsha Hudnall, with the Center for Mindful Eating, says, “The more understanding and forgiving we are of ourselves, the more motivated we are to do what we need to do to take care of ourselves, including eating well.” Our attitudes and feelings about ourselves influence how we eat. Food is a way to care for ourselves and nurture our well being in a very direct way.
2) Practice stress reduction in preparation for meal times. Consider taking a few moments to practice stress reduction prior to food preparation or eating. Sit quietly and give yourself permission to focus on your internal experience. Sit up straight and allow your muscles in your neck, shoulders and belly to soften. Notice your breath and the sensations in your belly and chest as it rises and falls. If you are feeling especially wound up, pay attention to the soles of your feet on the floor as you continue to breathe. If you are going to prepare food, create opportunities to do so mindfully, being fully with your hands for each task such as peeling carrots or stirring soup in a pot. Give yourself the gift of quiet and simplicity before you eat. If you have a family, include them in this process. Children can help with simple tasks such as setting the table and are often attracted to mindful energy.
3) Check in before you eat with the why, what, where, and how much. Reflect on what motivates your decisions with food. Where and how do you normally eat? Do you often skip meals? How do you typically take your meals? Are you eating “on the go” every morning, shoving toast into your mouth while you put on your shoes and rush out the door? Do you regularly over eat when certain emotions or experiences arise? Explore these questions honestly and without judgment, noting what is motivating your decision to eat and why you are choosing the foods you are. Allow your body to communicate to you what it needs to eat at any given time.
4) Bring your mind and body together while eating. Create the conditions for a mindful food experience by turning off cell phones, music and TV’s. Thich Naht Hahn recommends a moment of contemplation prior to eating in which we express gratitude for the food we are about to receive, “May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude, so as to be worthy to receive this food.” Perhaps consider all that went into producing the food: the sun, soil, water and labor of growing it and preparing the meal. Allow yourself to see and smell your food before you even pick up a utensil. As you begin to eat, devote some time to each bite and notice the textures, flavors and sensory experiences. Taste the food and allow yourself whatever time you need to eat. Pay attention to your body’s signals. When you are full, allow yourself to stop eating.
5) Give yourself transition time. Stay mindful of the transition between eating and moving on to the next task. As you get up from the table, keep your mind and your body together. Pay attention to how your body feels as it is digesting this particular meal. Consider using the clean up time as another opportunity for silence and mindful reflection. Allow yourself a chance to relax while digesting your meal and continue to breathe with awareness.
Eating in this way can seem strange initially. I grew up in a family where food was eaten quickly and there were often multiple conversations happening simultaneously at the table. Eating in silence together with forty people in a hall during my first silent meditation retreat initially raised anxiety for me and I had to reassure my inner child that it was safe to experience food in that way. I have since used mindful eating to build awareness of certain foods that I need to avoid for optimal health and to reduce stress induced snacking. May you nourish yourself with love and wellness today.
Mindful Eating Definition
Benefits of Mindful Eating
Why what where how and how much?
Thich Naht Hanh quote from daily reader “Your True Home” reading 116 Be worthy of your food.