Mindful eating

An ancient practice that can transform your relationship with food and set the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating

by Dolores O'Donoghue
Words Dolores O’Donoghue

Everyone is talking about the benefi­ts of mindfulness these days, a practice that has its roots in Buddhist contemplative practices, a form of training of the mind through meditation. A wealth of recent research provides strong evidence that this age-old practice can be beneficial for relationships, physical and mental health and workplace performance.

The whole ethos of mindfulness encourages people to appreciate living in the present. Followers claim that we are so busy trying to block out past worries and anticipate future ones that we rarely concentrate on, let alone enjoy, what is happening in the present moment.

Applied to eating, being mindful requires us to be fully attentive to food as we buy, prepare, serve and consume it. The practice involves choosing food both for enjoyment and nourishment, and cultivating an awareness of how the food we choose to eat affects the body and the mind. When we eat mindfully we acknowledge that food is vital to fuel and nourish us so that we are healthy physically, emotionally and mentally. It also makes us aware of non-hunger triggers that prompt us to eat and teaches us to try to meet emotional needs in other more effective ways.

Practitioners advise that we begin to eat mindfully in a gradual way, eating maybe one meal a day, in a slower, more attentive manner and slowly apply that practice to all our meals. Here are some tips that may help you get started on transforming your relationship with food:

Start with your shopping list

Be conscious of the nutritional value of each item that is added to the list and stick with it so as to avoid impulse-buying when shopping. Read labels, and research where the food comes from and who grew it. Select fresh produce when possible and avoid processed foods. Strive to be more cognisant of the type of food you put into your body before you even buy it.

Eliminate distractions

Turn off the television, put away newspapers, magazines, social media and the kids’ homework. Eating while there are distractions prevents us from fully engaging with what we are eating. If our attention is diverted we’re less likely to be aware of when we are full, which can result in overeating. Ditching laptops and smartphones to focus on eating your meal helps you become more conscious of how much you are eating and also how to enjoy it more.

Engage all your senses

As you serve and eat your meal, notice the sounds, colours, smells, shapes and textures. Try closing your eyes and smelling the aroma of the food, listen to the noises and notice the flavours and textures as you chew. With practice, you’ll notice that your tastes change, increasing enjoyment of what you may have perceived as boring foods.

Slow down

Eat more slowly, take smaller bites, chew thoroughly and put down your cutlery in between each bite. This allows you to fully experience the taste of your food. It also helps to improve digestion, since the process of breaking down food begins with the enzymes in your mouth. Chew each bite until the food is lique­fied, as this allows the tongue and palate to taste it better.

Be grateful

Find joy in food and share that joy with others. Pause before starting a meal to express your appreciation for everything and everyone who played a part in bringing the food to your table. Give thanks for being fortunate enough to be able to afford the food, for having the opportunity to enjoy it and for the people you are sharing the experience with.

  • ‘Mindful eating’ is published in Anthology Volume 03. Read more features from this volume or buy it now.
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