What Does “Eating Mindfully” Actually Mean?

Pretty pink, yellow and blue pastel bowls on Brenda Della Casa's The BDC Collective.

What if eating well involved much more than just our food?

by Martine Polycarpe

Sure, okay, we all know that it does, but maybe it’s also about our lifestyle. It’s how we eat, it’s where we eat, it’s about being mindful and present for meals.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because it’s a requirement for those of us who are participants in the Healthy Lifestyle Challenge. We’ve been practicing the art of eating mindfully, at every meal.

Eating mindfully is to eat with intention, attention (free from distractions) and a willingness to care for your body. When I worked full-time as a global health professional, meals were often on the go. Breakfast was a bowl of instant oatmeal or smoothie at my kitchen sink or in my office at my desk. If I wasn’t joining colleagues for lunch, I either skipped it, or I multitasked. In between sending and responding to emails and reading documents, I quickly inhaled my soup and salad while I prepared for my next meeting. Dinner was often a repeat of lunch. Although I had always been health conscious, often choosing nutritious foods to eat, rarely did I think about how I was eating. Now that my life and schedule are vastly different, I’m more interested in exploring and practicing the fine art of living. To me, that involves the art of mindful eating.

In our food-abundant, diet-obsessed culture, eating is often done mindlessly. We’ve forgotten the value and pleasure of eating food in a healthy way. Nowadays it’s quite common to see people on their phones, in front of a TV, with a magazine and/or at their desk when they eat. I’m not pointing the finger because I’ve done it more times than I’m proud to admit! When we engage in mindless eating, we pay little attention to our food, how much we’re eating and how full and nourished we feel. As a result, we often either eat too much or feel unsatisfied. With practice, I think that can be changed.

Free yourself of the constant barrage of texts, notifications, phone calls, emails, advertisements, etc. during meals. Turn off the ringer on your cell phone, move away from your computer or shut it down and sit down at a table—no standing at the kitchen sink or sitting at your desk—to eat meals. Enjoy meals, free of distractions.

I find it hardest to eat free of distractions when eating alone. When we eat alone we assume that since there’s no one else to talk to we should take out our electronic devices and browse the Internet, read news articles, check updates on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. and before you know it our meal is over and we jump right back into our hectic day. But mealtimes can and should be more valued. Not only are they a time to nourish our body, they can also be an opportunity for your brain (and eyes) to relax and take a break from the day, especially the hectic ones. Studies show it’s not healthy for our brains to always be on high mental alert, ready to respond quickly to any stimulation that comes our way. Consider mealtimes as an opportunity to enjoy your food and to relax. As you eat, think about the food you’re eating, its appearance, its flavors, where it came from and how nourishing it is to your body.

Something I often do with my toddler before he eats is encourage him to describe the food on his plate. For example, this evening I asked him what he was having for dinner. Taking his time to scan his plate, he responded, “orange carrots, green broccoli, rice, black beans and avocados. Yum-yum avocados.” 

Here are eight tips to help you practice mindful eating.

1 | Practice hara hachi bu.

This old adage means to eat until you are 80 percent full. Okinawans say this before every meal to remind them to eat moderate amounts of food.

2 | Do not multitask at meal times.

Set time aside time for eating, free of electronics/technology and other distractions.

Orange on Brenda Della Casa's The BDC Collective.

3 | Create an enjoyable atmosphere.

Some of you might find it helpful to set the table nicely: use cutlery and put it down in between mouthfuls, light a candle, buy flowers, etc. Some may enjoy listening to soothing music, while others may welcome the opportunity to sit and enjoy a meal in silence. Do whatever it takes to create an atmosphere that reminds you that you deserve such a great meal and that you are grateful for what you are eating.

4 | Eat only à table, that is, seated at the table.

To minimize mindless snacking, get into the habit of only eating when you are seated at the table and able to give the food your full attention. Do this even when eating alone! The first few times you eat alone this way you might feel uncomfortable. You’ll want to reach for your phone, go to your computer, grab a magazine, or something. Don’t give in!

5 | Appreciate your food’s appearance.

Sometimes we forget about the beauty of the food we are about to eat. Taking the time to notice the colors, the shapes, the composition of your food, etc. helps to set the scene for mindful eating.

6 | Share meals.

One of the joys of eating is sharing a meal with friends and family, free of technology.

7 | Eat slowly and savor your food.

Take time to chew your food slowly and savor each mouthful. Take the time to think about the flavor and texture.

8 | Prepare your meals.

Find your Zen while cooking. Whether you’re eating alone or with others, make time to prepare meals with the freshest ingredients possible. The cooking process can be as relaxing and enjoyable as eating. Focus on quality over quantity. You will likely enjoy it more and be satisfied without overeating.

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