When we set the context for ritual or healthy habits around eating and provide a structure to support the routine, we can bring about a mindful moment. This may be in the form of pressing pause to acknowledge the food in front of us, wherever and however it shows up, or maybe saying a prayer or a statement of gratitude prior to eating, or maybe just taking a breath or more than acknowledging the food in front of them and/or those who have prepared the food. When we intentionally take a moment to pause then eat, a different experience can be created to slow down while eating. You may notice when you do these practices you taste your food more, you become more present in the act of eating. You may be more aware of being hungry, thirsty, or full.
I have realized how unaware of how hungry I am sometimes. I tend to get in my head and fill it with busy work and not eat until it’s time. I occasionally will feel hunger but often my hunger cues especially at the busiest part of my day would be suppressed. Maybe because of seeing patients back to back or being distracted with kids’ activities or demands of distance learning, I would “forget” to eat. Then I would become “hangry” which has been a term my family has used often since 2009. I would become irritable and snippy and flighty and find myself not grounded in what I am doing.
When you think of the parasympathetic system and how it activates rest and digestion, there is a time to sit and give yourself a moment to eat. Maybe you allow 3 breaths prior to sitting or sit and eat lunch for 15 min without a distraction like a screen. See if you can dedicate 2-5 min to just the act of eating and observe without judgment. What do you notice?
With the pause button, we may bring more awareness to patterns we bring with us to the table. I noticed that I often “stress eat” at the end of the day at about 4 pm when I am getting tired and will reach for sugar. I also noticed I want to feel full when I am emotionally in a hard place. It gives me a body sense that I think on paper sounds good because humans thrive when fed and feeling full is a luxury of being human.
As Joseph Nelson lists beautifully in his article Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat, a number of suggestions that could be useful to consider when learning to eat mindfully:
- Before reaching for something automatically, stop and take a moment to notice what you are feeling and what you might want to fill you up. Are you stressed, bored, angry, or sad? Are you lonely? Or, are you actually physically hungry? Be mindful of your reactivity and make a choice instead.
- If your desire is not about hunger, do something else more appropriate for the desire.
- Eat intentionally and only eat. Put away other distractions and pay attention to your food.
- In addition to how you experience a food, consider what it took to bring this food to you. Who was involved in the growing process and production? Consider the sun and soil it took to grow the ingredients and ask yourself where in the world it came from. Appreciate all of what it took to bring it to your plate.
- Savor each bite.
- After each bite, check-in with your body to see how you are feeling. Have you had enough? Do you need more? Is it time to stop? Then move on to whatever you have chosen.
When we get into a “go” mode, we often can surpass the cues our bodies give us. Maybe do an experiment and be curious and try one of the suggestions above. If you challenge yourself to try one, be kind to yourself, and just as an experiment mentally note what you have observed without judgment or meaning to it. If you are brave, do the experiment with someone you love and share your experience.
Enjoy the pause.