My 5 Steps to Mindful Eating
This is something that evolved very organically over time. It’s how I eat every meal and every snack and it’s how I teach my clients to eat. It’s a simple process that has a truly profound and delightful effect, not just on your eating, but on your entire life.
Step 1: To Get rid of any distractions, and get present to your eating
How many times have you finished a meal without even realizing it? The last thing you knew, you had just gotten your food and somehow (maybe you were on the phone, at the wheel, or typing on your computer) your plate was suddenly empty and you were stuffed?
If you find yourself in front of the TV, in the car, at your desk, standing, or walking while you eat, you are not in an ideal eating environment. Both your mind and your body really need to be present at mealtime for proper digestion as well as emotional and mental recognition.
Choose a place to enjoy your food that is free from distractions. If you’re used to multi-tasking while you eat you may notice some feelings of guilt start to creep in, and if you’re used to eating with entertainment (TV, co-workers, magazines, etc.) you may worry that you’ll just be bored. But being present to your meal is a gift and it is anything but boring. In fact, being present with whatever you are doing is one of the greatest joys in life!
So find a quiet space, whether it’s outside in the shade of a tree, at your dining room table, or in an empty conference room if you’re at work.
Once you’ve found (or created) a serene environment, take a moment to really get present to it. If you’re outside, take in the gentle breeze, the vivid color of the trees, and the birds chirping in the distance. If you’re at your dining room table, light some candles, dim the lights, and sink in to the peaceful silence. And if you’re in an empty conference room, close the door, leave your stresses behind, and smile.
Take a few deep breaths as you get present and let yourself relax and enjoy your time. Mindful eating is a meditation and an opportunity for you to relax and distress every time you eat.
Take in the beauty of your food along with the gentle atmosphere. Take a deep breath, and you’re ready for step 2.
Step 2: To begin your meals with gratitude
In April of 2008, I went to Viejo Vallarta for 3 weeks. It was rainy and dreary in California, and I took one look at the weather report in Mexico and booked my flight. I stayed with a good friend and his girlfriend, Eiko, who I met for the first time on that trip. She was from Japan.
The 3 of us had an amazing time together. And every morning, we had a feast. We would cook eggs, tortillas, and vegetables and we would slice up fresh fruit, sprinkle it with cinnamon, and take it upstairs for a picnic on the rooftop.
Before every meal, Eiko would place her hands together in front of her heart and say, “Itadaki-masu,” which means, “I receive this food.” It’s a common practice in Japan, and soon enough, all three of us were doing it together, and doing it at every meal.
There’s something so sweet and comforting about this ritual. I still do it before every meal, only I’ve expanded on it and made it my own. I bring my hands together in from of my heart and say: “I bless this food to bring me perfect nourishment. Itadaki-masu.”
And there really is something special to it. I’ve noticed that it truly affects how I eat. On those rare occasions that I forget to say it, I eat faster, and with less awareness. And when I catch myself, I always notice that I forgot to begin with gratitude. So I pause, say the blessing, and return to my meal with presence and a gentle appreciation.
Saying a blessing before you eat prepares your body to receive the food, and adds a level of awareness and intention. When you focus on gratitude and nourishment, you set the intention for a healthy, balanced, and nourishing meal.
Step 3: Delight Your Senses
When we’re hungry (and sometimes even when we’re not), food is really exciting, right? Either that or it’s a pain in the you-know-what and we have “more important” things to do than waste our time eating, so best to get it over with.
Both of these approaches sabotage your eating experience – and your waistline. So the important thing to remember is to eat slowly and with awareness. This is essential for good digestion as well as keeping yourself from overeating.
And, it is much easier to do after you’ve followed the first 2 steps because by this point you actually want to relax and enjoy your meal (instead of wanting to get it over with or wishing you were somewhere else doing something else).
To make this even easier and even more delightful, keep in mind all of your senses as you go…
· So, your sense of sight: notice the colors, shapes, and overall presentation of the meal sitting in front of you
· Your sense of smell: take in even the scents and aromas
· How does the food feel in your mouth, on your tongue: notice the various textures in your mouth (is it smooth, crunchy, tender?). Also notice how a nice, warm bite differs from a cool and refreshing one
· And, of course, taste: this one should be obvious, but when you’re really present to each bite you’ll truly start to notice the intensity and variety of your food (is it spicy, salty, sweet?) and even the most subtle notes can be a burst of flavor
Another tip to being present while you eat is to take deep breaths throughout your meal. This one simple act brings you present quickly, easily, and very sweetly. It’s astonishing how rarely we take time to breathe while we eat, but it makes a world of difference. If I ever notice myself eating too fast, I simply take a deep breath (or two), and everything slides back into place.
Step 4: To take a break half-way through your meal
This step is deceptively simple but it works like magic.
It takes your brain about 20 minutes to register that your stomach full. This is one of the reasons it’s so easy to overeat!
Taking a break halfway through your meal is your secret weapon to make sure you stay on track. It can be anywhere from 1 minute to 5 minutes and it does three very important things:
- It slows you down. It gives your brain a chance to catch up with your stomach and register that you are getting full
- It helps you stay present and aware
- It starts to rewire your brain to learn that it’s okay to stop eating! So many times we overeat because we are wired to think that “there’s not enough” and this simple step helps get you in a space where it’s safe to stop eating because there IS more! If you have trouble stopping when you’re full, this is going to make a huge difference for you
Step 5: Rest up when you’re done
Mindfulness doesn’t end when you finish eating, there’s still one last piece….
You’ve just finished your meal and now it’s time to clear your plates, clean up the kitchen, get back to work, watch TV, get to your appointment, pick up the kids… whoa – I’m tired just thinking about all of that!
How would it feel, instead of jumping back into your hectic day, to just sit for a minute or two? To just be?
After a meal, your body actually goes through a very energy-intensive process digesting what you ate, and jumping straight from your meal back into action makes it difficult for your body to focus on what it needs to do.
Taking some time to rest will do you very, very good. And though you can use this time to just be still, you can also talk with friends, read a magazine, or even use it as a buffer to prepare for what’s next. The goal is to give your body a rest, even if it’s just for 2 minutes.
You may have heard before that digestion is the key to good health, and that’s absolutely right! Your food is your fuel and the better your digestion is the more health, vitality, and energy you will have. So taking a few moments after a meal to honor your body is both an act of love and one of the best things you can do for your health.