Mindful eating may be among the most talked-about approaches to food since paleo, but don’t call it a diet. Instead, when it comes to food, mindfulness isn’t about what you eat, but how you eat. It’s based on the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, a practice that relies on breathing and focus to recognize what’s happening in our bodies and minds both physically and emotionally. The health benefits to meditation are incredible also! Think of this as eating while meditating. Applying the concept to food calls for slowing down, taking note of how you feel before, during and after a meal. When practiced on a regular basis, mindful eating can transform not only what happens at the table, but your health and wellness in the rest of your life.
How do I try mindful eating?
The easiest way to start is to put your phone and other devices away (seriously) and focus on the fact that you’re about to have a meal. This alone might be a radical change for a lot of us (guilty) and sets the stage for adding on additional, more mindful, practices. Healthline, recommends starting your journey to mindful eating with the following :
- Before you pick up your utensil, ask yourself why you’re eating, whether you’re actually hungry, and if the food you chose is nourishing.
- Chew thoroughly and thoughtfully.
- If you typically eat with chatty companions, try having one meal in silence.
- As you eat, ask yourself: how does this taste? What does it smell like? Or even, what’s the texture?
- Next, consider how the food makes you feel – physically, emotionally, or otherwise.
- Notice when you’re feeling full and stop eating. (Yup, put down that fork.)
- Before moving on to the next thing, think about the experience: what was the best part?
As you repeat this process, you’ll start to notice your own hunger cues and other nuances that will allow you to be more intentional about eating. New habits can lead to restorative meals that keep you healthy, energized and savoring more of the minutiae of daily life. Intuitive eating tunes into the body’s needs so that you notice when you’re full (versus when your plate is clean), as well the details that bring joy and awareness to the experience (favorite music or Spotify playlist, anyone?). As you experiment with mindful eating, you can continue to iterate and evolve your practice with approaches like taking smaller bites and breathing between them.
You might also enjoy reading: How health and wellness pioneer Elissa Goodman found a new life in holistic nutrition
Mindful eating with friends and family
Social eating can also be a mindful experience. Sharing meals with family and friends can also be a mindful and healthy practice. Whether it’s a daily ritual or a milestone celebration, the bonds, moments and memories formed while preparing and enjoying food together are some of our strongest ties to ourselves and to our communities. The smells of delicious food, the joy of good conversations and the general warmth of spending time around the table is celebrated in so many different ways, in so many different cultures. The health benefits to meditation are endless and truly life-changing!
Traditions vary globally. Here are a few:
- In Japan, before any meal, they say itadakimasu. This phrase is a polite way to say I receive the food. It’s a way to give thanks to the plants and animals that went into the food.
- People in France set aside a significant amount of time for the family meal. It’s seen as a social event as much as a way to replenish the body. They take far longer at dinner than other countries do, and it’s important to have everyone gathered before they begin.
- In Spain and many other Spanish-speaking countries, many people take siestas during the afternoon. They gather with friends for a meal before taking a nap, and this practice is therapeutic for their body and mind.
- In the Jewish tradition, orthodox observers put all electronics away before meals during the Sabbath. Among many Christians, it is traditional to offer a prayer in thanks before mealtime. This is a way to show gratitude for a meal.
Why we should slow down to eat, together
Although traditions vary across cultures and religions, many have the same goal: to bring us together as family and friends, connecting our minds with our bodies, and fostering a sense of presence in these moments of togetherness. According to often-cited research (in The Atlantic in 2014, for example), eating dinner as a family helps children do better in school and builds deeper relationships. In addition to family bonding and relationship building reasons, there is also recent research cited by Harvard that applying mindful eating strategies can be used to treat eating disorders and may be associated with healthier eating habits.
The health benefits to meditation, beyond the table
Mindful eating is a great way to change your relationship with food and strengthen your bonds with the people around you. If you’re eating while binge-watching Netflix, for example, you’re not engaging with either activity, nor with the people around you, as meaningfully as you could. Playlists during dinner can help – and not just songs either. Spotify playlists can include a trove of location-based nature soundscapes and beautifully crafted sound baths. In other words: enhanced ambience to better enjoy your meal. A more mindful eating practice enables you to have a healthier relationship with food and combat binge eating and other harmful habits. Additionally, spending that time to connect with others over a meal is a great way to deepen your connection and stay in touch with what’s happening in each others’ lives.
Finally, one of the most important aspects of mindfulness, according to some studies, is that it can help us live longer. Physical and mental health make us more resilient, relaxed and happy in the long run.