Being here now, observing the present moment, doing one thing at a time, without judgement, effectively. These are all components of mindfulness, something we could all use more of, especially during this busy season of holidays which we so easily forget are also holy days.
Why is it, that around this time of year, so many people take it upon themselves to bring all kinds of alluring desserts to share at work? I know they have good intentions, and I love the holidays, but a quick nibble here and a mindless indulgence there can add up to unpleasant consequences like: “Why am I so moody/tired lately? Could it be all that sugar I’ve been eating?” and “Where did those 5 extra pounds come from?”
Slowing down and eating mindfully can enhance the experience of eating. Mindful eating improves our digestion and can help us maintain a healthy weight. It allows us to nourish and respect our bodies. Using mindfulness, I would not just grab that chocolate chip cookie and stuff it into my mouth without thinking. If I was being mindful, I would not be eating in front of the TV or at the computer as I too often do at work.
Using mindfulness, I would start by observing. I would observe the cookie and all it’s friends: the gingerbread man, the rice crispy treats and those little white balls covered with powdered sugar with nuts inside (if it has nuts, it’s healthy right?) I might observe my mouth watering slightly with detachment (Hmmm. That’s an interesting sensation.) If I don’t observe this sensation for too long, if I don’t let it turn into drooling, I can choose not to act on the urge to grab and gobble, and instead go on serenely about my business. Maybe get a cup of herbal tea, or a carrot stick…. which I would eat mindfully of course.
But when we’re going to have a treat, whether it’s a cookie or a green bean, lets make it count. Let’s make it a memorable experience. Here are my steps for Mindful Eating using all of your senses:
1. Use your sense of sight to observe the colors and shapes of your well chosen treat. Take some time to study it. With fruits and vegetables, you might even discover something new. Jon Kabat-Zinn does this trick with a peeled banana where he shows how it’s made up of three distinct segments lengthwise. Just try it!
2. Smell your food. It could be a strong or subtle smell. If your nose likes what it smells, enjoy the aroma. If not, you might want to stop here and not proceed to step 3 with this particular food item. Our sense of smell is designed to protect us from things we really shouldn’t eat.
3. If you like the smell, put a small morsel at a time in your mouth. Will it melt or is chewing required? (If it’s a carrot, there’s no need to wonder, but it can be interesting to let a bit of sugar cookie or chocolate melt in your mouth.)
4. Feel the texture or textures. Is it smooth or rough or a combination?
5. Savor the tastes. Is it sweet, salty, tart, tangy……?
6. Does the process of eating create any sound, like crunching or even slurping?
Do all the above slowly so you can to make your treat last. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m partially suspending the nonjudgmental aspect of mindfulness in favor of healthy fun. It’s ok to judge the flavor or texture of your food in an appreciative way, but don’t judge yourself, for eating too fast for example. Just observe and you might slow down. And if you do judge, just observe the judging without additional judging about the judging.
Now, you might not want to try your first attempt at mindful eating at a party. You might not want to say, I can’t talk right now, because I’m going to eat this cookie mindfully, unless you have the kind of friends who would appreciate that. It’s best to practice mindful eating alone at first or with one good friend who’s willing to humor you. If you’re at a party, or with someone who doesn’t know you well, you might just go with eating semi-mindfully or having mindful moments. Either way, you’re likely to eat less and enjoy it more.