Two hundred years ago, the planning and preparation of meals dominated the time and energy of a family.
Crops had to be grown and tended. Animals were slaughtered, butchered, and then the meat was dried and preserved.
Women would rise early to prepare meals on the hearths of brick fireplaces. Every meal was prepared from scratch, every single day.
It wasn’t until the turn of the century and the Industrial Revolution that kitchens became more modernized and food preparation wasn’t the time-consuming effort it once was.
Then along came prepackaged foods, the frozen TV dinner, and fast food restaurants, turning what was once a day-long affair into brief diversion from other more important activities.
As we’ve become less engaged with the preparation of food and with the traditional family dinner, we’ve become less engaged with the experience of eating.
For many families on many days of the week, meals are a grab-and-go event, consumed quickly and mindlessly. There is little time to prepare, savor, and appreciate what we are eating.
No, we don’t want to go back to sweating over an open fire all day. But it is valuable to return to a more mindful way of preparing and consuming our meals.
When you are mindful, you aren’t racing through an activity just to get it over with. You are focused and attentive every step of the way — noticing, savoring, enjoying, and appreciating.
So what is the point of mindful eating? With so many other activities that are important to us, why do we need to return to a more time-consuming, deliberate way of preparing and eating food?
There are so many science-backed benefits to mindful eating:
- It can help you reduce overeating and binge eating.
- It can help you lose weight.
- It can help you cope with eating problems like bulimia and anorexia.
- It makes food taste better because you are more attentive.
- It increases your appreciation for what you are eating.
- It increase your appreciation for those involved in growing or producing the food.
- It makes you more aware of your body’s needs.
Rather than seeing mindful eating as a time-suck that pulls you away from other things (the TV, your smartphone), change your mindset to recognize the tremendous physical and mental health benefits of being present as you prepare and eat your meals.
Here are 10 ways to practice mindful eating:
1. Allow yourself more time.
If you are committed to mindful eating, then you need to make a place for it in your busy life.
You can’t eat mindfully when you are racing through a meal or rushing to figure out what you want for dinner.
Meal preparation and eating must take on a higher priority for you and your family. That doesn’t mean it has to be an all-day affair or an elaborate gourmet event.
You can eat simple, healthy meals mindfully. And if you enjoy cooking, then allow time to prepare a more complicated meal on occasion.
Either way, it will involve slowing the process down and savoring every step.
2. Plan your meals thoughtfully.
One problem I frequently encounter with mindfulness around meals is knowing what I want to prepare in a timely way.
At the end of a busy day, I find myself staring inside the refrigerator, wondering what I can slap together and call it a meal. It makes me feel stressed and frustrated.
Often I’ll resort to something quick and tasteless just to quell my hunger.
But on days when I have my act together, I’ll spend some time thinking about what I want to eat for each meal. I’ll plan out recipes and prepare a shopping list.
When I allow more time for meal planning, I enjoy the process so much more. I feel engaged in my food choices and physical health. I can be more creative and varied.
Consider planning out a few meals for the week on a Sunday afternoon. Look through some recipes or on Pinterest for ideas to inspire you. Write out your shopping list.
This planning time can be a mindfulness exercise in itself.
3. Shop for food with joy.
I find there are certain grocery stores that energize me and those that drain me. Big, cavernous grocery stores with florescent lighting make me feel overwhelmed.
But I always feel energized at a Whole Foods because everything is beautifully displayed and the food is so fresh. Also, I love going to local farmer’s markets and choosing fresh fruits and vegetables.
I like being able to take my time, choose my items carefully, and think about the meals as I do my shopping.
Think about the grocery stores and markets that don’t stress you out or overwhelm you. Even if they are a bit farther away, allow yourself the extra time to enjoy the food shopping process.
Pick up the fresh fruits and veggies, and notice the colors, the fragrance, and the feel of them. If you need to buy packaged foods, take the time to look at the ingredients to ensure they meet your health standards.
As you shop, take a moment to feel gratitude for the abundance of food that is available to you.
4. Prepare meals attentively.
When it’s time to prepare a meal, allow yourself plenty of time. Gather the utensils, pots, and pans you will need. Make sure your food preparation space is clean and decluttered.
Wash any fruits and vegetables with care, paying attention to what you are doing. As you chop, be fully present with chopping. As you season, stir, sauté, and blend, notice the changes in the food, the aromas, and the sounds of the food cooking.
I often turn on classical music or soft jazz and enjoy a glass of wine as I prepare my meals in the evening, which heightens the overall experience.
5. Make it an occasion.
In our rush to get a meal to the table, we often quickly plop food on the plates, quickly clear stuff off the dining table, and sit down to eat without much ceremony.
Instead, make the act of dining a special occasion. Set the table with care. Light candles. Put the food in bowls on the table so everyone can visually enjoy the bounty that has been prepared.
At least a few times a week, make it a priority to have a family meal where everyone sits down together for an unhurried event.
Family dining can become a mindfulness ritual that enhances the experience for everyone and affords an opportunity for sharing and togetherness.
Even if you live alone, make your private meal a special occasion. Who more than you deserves this care and attention?
6. Take a moment for gratitude.
Before you begin eating the food before you, take just a moment to consider all of the people involved in getting the meal to the table.
This includes all of those involved in growing or producing the food, those that sorted and packaged it, those who displayed it at the store, those who bagged it, and of course the person who prepared it.
Hundreds of people were likely involved in this meal in some small way. Take time to feel appreciation and gratitude for all of those people.
7. Pay attention before eating.
At this point, I know you’re really hungry — but wait just a few more seconds. Take a look at the food on your plate and how enticing and delicious it looks.
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Breath in the aromas of the food and how it makes you salivate. Anticipate how the first bite will taste.
By delaying gratification for just a moment, you’ll have a richer experience of the meal.
8. Savor each bite.
With every bite, chew your food slowly. Notice the various flavors as the food moves around your tongue.
Slow down in between bites of food rather than rushing through and gobbling down the meal. Make each bite of food a mini mindfulness experience.
9. Sit before seconds.
If you enjoyed the meal, you may want to jump up for a second helping right away. But instead, sit for a few minutes before going back for more food.
Take some time to appreciate the meal you just ate and to notice how your body feels.
Often it takes five or ten minutes for your stomach to send you the signal that you’ve had enough. Pay attention to your body and what it’s telling you about your hunger level.
Learn to stop yourself before you overeat.
10. Clean up mindfully.
Once the meal is over, you can maintain a mindful state of mind as you clean up. Rather than resenting the clean up process, be fully present with it.
Pay attention as the water washes over your hands and onto the dishes. Notice how calming it feels to immerse yourself in the routine of washing, rinsing, and putting dishes away.
Even mundane tasks like doing the dishes can be peaceful and joyful if you choose to engage in the process rather than resisting it.
Eating and preparing food is essential to your health and well-being. It’s necessary for your survival. Don’t allow this most important activity to devolve into just a means to a necessary end.
Celebrate your life and honor your body by choosing to pay attention to what you eat, how you prepare it, and the experience of consuming it.