Alright, how many times do we eat something on the go or mindlessly in front of the work desk? How many times do we eat fast and forgot what we ate a couple of hours later? For many, the answer is often. Food can not only be an overwhelming topic for a variety of reasons, but in some ways it also might be something we don’t fully experience because we often aren’t really present in the moment for the preparing and eating of the food
What do you mean? You might say, I’m there eating the food am I not? Well, physically yes, but your thoughts might be concerned with the previous work day, or planning out some future event. We do much of our lives on autopilot and automatically go through the motions – and in the process, something gets lost. That is, the present moment, and all the richness that comes with it, the good and the bad.
Tuning into the senses
Cooking and eating involves primarily the sense of taste, but also includes smelling, seeing, hearing, and touching. But when you eat mindlessly, you aren’t as tuned into these senses and frankly miss out on a lot of the experience of eating as well as cooking, if you make the food yourself. An experience that could be so much more than a mindless functional activity, if you practise tuning into all of what your senses have to offer.
If you’ve got a treat, have you noticed that it’s often the first and the last bite that are the most intensely pleasurable? The ones in between we might consume automatically after that first lovely bite, only to realize that we were almost finished and then savouring that last bite, perhaps regretting that it’s already over. When it happens to me I often think it’s such a waste that I wasn’t “there for” the entire experience, especially if it’s something I’m eating only because I want a treat and therefore for the pure pleasure.
The busier and more stimulating our surroundings are, the more difficult it might be to tune into your immediate present moment experience, but with practice, just as with mindfulness in general – it gets easier. External distractions can include people seeking our attention and tech gadgets, along with a perhaps noisy office cafeteria, restaurant or home.
Internal distractions can be just as powerful, if not more! You know that constantly spinning mind of yours, contemplating to-do lists and rehearsing conversations that need to be had with someone. By paying mindful attention to your cooking or at the least eating experience, it can offer a break from all of this stimuli and is essentially providing a gateway into the present moment, which is really the only moment you have. And here’s a secret: beyond being enjoyable, it can be stress-relieving!
Curious about mindful eating? Try an easy challenge!
I’m not suggesting you eat all of your meals from now on in some kind of ideal mindful context, that’s not very realistic. But are you curious about what you’ve been missing? Yes? Alright, so how might we try this out once in a while? I’ve got three challenges below for you, of which you might pick one or do all.
Whether you’re having a sandwich on the go, breakfast at home or lunch at work or in a restaurant, just take a moment to slow done in order to better tune into your senses and perhaps ask yourself the following questions – without judging what may come up as good or bad;
- What am I eating? Am I excited about it? What thoughts are coming up?
- What does it smell, look, and taste like?
- What’s the sound like as I eat it?
- What is the sensation of touch if I’m eating with my fingers, or what does it feel like inside my mouth?
- Overall just see if you can direct your awareness to the experience of eating. (If you don’t particularly enjoy what you’re eating or have some kind of negative physical reaction it (such indigestion or a headache), you are also much more likely to notice and maybe make a different choice next time.)
Alone or with other people, set aside an evening where the cooking and eating will be done mindfully. You might plan to make your favourite recipe, play some background music and otherwise set the mood (perhaps cleaning up a messy dining table and lighting some candles).
- As you are preparing the food, tune into your senses as you chop and stir. Notice the sounds, the colours, and the smells that arise.
- Make an effort to serve and present the food in a way that is aesthetically pleasing.
- When seated to eat, perhaps notice your excitement and urge to eat. Take time to look at and smell the food, setting the intention to eat slowly and tuning into all of your senses. If other people are present, allow the focus to be on the food and allow for the silence between any talking to be used to once again to tune into the experience you are having in that very moment.
- Make a commitment to eat something small mindfully, perhaps when you’re alone. Choose something you enjoy, it might be something like an orange, or a piece of chocolate.
- Now imagine you’ve never seen this object before. You are an alien on planet earth and it’s the first time you’ve come in contact with this food. Allow yourself to be playfully curious even if it feels silly.
- Start with observing the object. What is the texture, colour, pattern? What can you notice?
- Then feel it, touch it with your fingers. Is it hard, squishy, warm or cold?
- Moving onto the sense of smell. Smelling the object. Does it remind you of something, are there specific associations? You might notice that saliva has started to produce in your mouth, as your body anticipates and prepares for the eating by producing enzymes and helping you swallow.
- What are your thoughts? Notice the urge to eat.
- Place the object in your mouth, and before you bite – notice the sensation of the object in your mouth, perhaps touching lips, teeth, tongue or roof of the mouth. Notice any sounds that arise as you eat.
- When you finally bite, continue to chew slowly. If it’s chocolate, you might choose to let it melt on your tongue. Notice the explosion of flavour in your mouth and your reaction.
- Make the active choice rather than automatically to swallow your first bite. Then choose how to continue to eat the rest of the food.
Making the deliberate choice to be there for your life
Sometimes we don’t have to make an effort. We’ve all had experiences where a meal has been anticipated and the smell, presentation and eventually taste makes our senses explode. It might be a home cooked meal or a memorable restaurant experience. Making that deliberate choice to tune into our present moment experience via our senses can allow for more of those types of experiences, even if not at that same intensity – although you might be surprised what something simple can bring you. When we like what we eat we experience more of it and more pleasure. When we don’t like a food or have physical reactions to it, we get valuable information and can make better, more healthful and pleasurable choices next time.