Mind Your Mouth, Will You? (An introduction to mindful eating)
I watch my kids sometimes—while they’re eating. They zone out while stuffing bits of food in their precious mouths. They often talk while they’re putting food in their mouths. I say, “Don’t talk with your mouth full.” Of course, this is mainly because it is rude and I don’t particularly care for seeing chewy amalgamations swooshing around their open mouths. But I also just want them to do one. thing. at. a. time. I want my children to become mindful of what they are eating. Not only is it healthier, it is a prime opportunity for them to practice mindfulness!
What exactly does it mean to eat mindfully? Mindful eating means concentrating on eating, rather than eating while concentrating on something else. Multitasking is really not as good as we think it is. Mindful eating means being fully aware of the entire process of eating. It means allowing yourself to appreciate all of the positive and negative aspects of eating, from selecting the right foods, to feeling how the food you eat affects your body. Mindful eating means using all of your senses to be aware of what you eat, how you eat and why you eat.
You might be asking, “Why do I need to put that much effort into something that is so natural?” We have become trained to make this natural—and necessary—process quite an unnatural event. Think about it. A natural eating event would be that we feel pangs of hunger, our stomach growls, and we go searching for some kind of natural food to eat. For instance, if we were really talking natural here, we’d go pick an apple off of an apple tree. We might wash off the dirt, or we might not. We would probably take a good look at the apple first, and before taking a bite. We’d bite into the apple. We might wipe the juice trickling down our chin. While we’re eating the apple under the tree, we might feel the breeze gently passing over our faces. You get the picture. In today’s world, we see a commercial for potato chips and think, “Hm. That looks yummy.” Then we might go to the store in our cars, while listening the radio, kids talking in the background. We will go through the multitude of grocery store aisles, searching for potato chips and come across some 30 different brands of chips loading the aisle. We might have also gotten distracted along the way and put a bunch of other obnoxiously colored junk into our cart. Later, we open that bag of chips and eat one. Salty. Then we take 3-4 chips and stuff them in our mouths, often while watching TV, talking to our friends or family, or walking down the street. Is that kind of eating a natural process? I dare say not.
Mindful eating means to allow yourself to become aware of the positive aspects of the entire eating process: selecting your food, preparing your food, and in doing so, listening to your natural inner wisdom. In other words, listening to what your body is telling you it needs; not listening to what highly paid marketing and advertising executives are feeding you. Mindful eating means being aware of the consequences of what you eat. It means knowing where your food came from, what kind of ingredients are in it, and considering whether anyone was harmed in the preparation of the food you eat. Are people somewhere being exploited and kept in poverty because they’ve enslaved themselves to big corporations to make this product? Are animals being tortured? Is the environment being damaged? And lastly, are you putting stuff in your body that could create disease?
Try this little mindful eating exercise: Mindful eating also means using all of your senses in the eating process. Trust your senses. Go ahead and try it: Take a Twinky (or a hamburger, or some other kind of processed food). Take a long look at it. What color is it? Pale yellow? Almost beige? What does it feel like in your hands, in your mouth? Squishy, spongy? Sugary? What does it smell like? Nothing? And what does it taste like on your tongue? Sugar? Bland? Now go get yourself a sun-ripened, organic peach (or some other kind of organic, natural produce). Do the same exercise with the peach. I bet you my co-op box that your senses will instantly come alive. Your mind has been trained to think the Twinky is something yummy. You can thank all those marketers for that. Believe me I know; I used to be one of them (I’m not proud). Try to really become aware of what your senses are telling you every time you eat something. Do this for an entire day. Respond to each food experience without judgment. Just observe how the food truly tastes, feels, looks and smells. Jot your thoughts down on a piece of paper.
Mindful eating also involves becoming aware of your own body. Be mindful of your own hunger cues, become aware of when your hunger (not appetite!) stops. Become mindful of your appetite. Realize that appetite is mostly a trick of your mind; it is nothing more than conditioning. Be gentle with yourself during this awareness exercise. Don’t judge yourself harshly if you crave a Twinky after work. Don’t judge yourself if you just want to eat a bag of chips after a bad day. Just use this time to be aware of it.
The key to this exercise is to trust YOUR senses without judgment! Become a neutral observer of yourself.
With awareness comes understanding. With understanding comes the will to change.
When you become more mindful of what you eat, how you eat, when you eat, and why you eat, you will soon understand that your body, mind, and soul are connected, and you are indeed connected to all things. Eating is a wonderful opportunity to become mindful. Eating is a great chance to become more connected with your own body and mind, to become connected with other beings of this world, and to feel connected to the planet.
As a thank you for being so patient with me for not posting much over the past two months, I’m giving away free stuff today! All you have to do is:
1) Subscribe to my blog, and
2) Post a comment about your experience with mindful eating in the comments section at the bottom of my blog!
One of you lucky Mindfuls will receive this book free:
Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh