When we eat mindfully, the same love of food that can lead to overeating becomes the key to eating less because we experience greater enjoyment and satiation. Eating becomes more than a habit or compulsion; we transform it into a form of nourishment and sustenance for body and soul.
Too often, eating is just one more mindless activity that I cram into a busy day. If I drive my car, flip through a magazine, or watch TV while I eat, I donít pay attention to my food. Not only will that lead me to eat beyond the point of fullness, but it cheats me out of one of lifeís most delicious pleasures.
This distracted way of life robs us of the flavor of our food and the flavor of life. But mindful eating can reawaken us to pleasure and joy. It is a simple process to learn, and it makes automatic and emotional eating a thing of the past.
Here are my 5 steps to mindful eating:
1. Tune in. Take a few deep breaths. Turn off your television or music so that itís quiet. Ask yourself what prompted you to seek food. Are you hungry? Or are you eating out of habit, boredom, or to fill an emotional void?
2. Prepare with care. As you assemble the ingredients and begin to prepare your snack or meal, notice the colors, textures, and aromas of the food. Consider the natural and human effort that went into the foodís production. Arrange your food attractively on your plate. Light candles or use cloth napkins to make an everyday meal feel special.
3. Appreciate. Take a moment to recognize how fortunate you are to have food to eat when you are hungry. Give thanks for your body and its ability to turn nourishment into energy. Again, become aware of the pleasing aromas and appearance of your food. If you are eating with someone else, take a moment to really see them and appreciate their company.
4. Take it slow. Bring your attention to the moment. Take a small bite. Close your eyes. How does the food feel and taste when you first bite into it or place it in your mouth? What temperature is it? Do you sense salt, sweet, sour, or bitter most prominently? Chew slowly and savor the distinctive flavors. Between bites, set down your fork or spoon. If your attention wanders, bring it back to the process of eating slowly and mindfully.
5. Satiation. About halfway through your meal, evaluate your level of hunger. When you feel 2/3 of the way full, stop. Give your mind time to catch up to your body and receive the signal that youíve had enough. Think about your mindful eating experience. If you had trouble staying present, thatís okay. Youíve already taken a step toward a more healthful and satisfying relationship with food.
Itís a terrible feeling to sit before an empty plate and have little recollection of the processómuch less the enjoymentóof consuming its contents. When I find myself in this situation, I feel an unpleasant blend of guilt and regret that relates to my sense that Iím not giving my diet and body the care and attention they deserve.
Make this small change to take better care of your self. Mindfulness is a process that feels more natural with practice. You can begin with more awareness of your eating drives and habits, and then progress to a fuller appreciation of the sensual pleasures of eating. I hope youíll experiment with mindful eating and let me know how it works for you.
Thich Nhat Hanh offers a lovely way to share a mindful meal with your loved ones in Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life. Read excerpts or buy it on Amazon.com.