Mindful eating – and our free audios – building your mindfulness
If you’re one of the many people today interested in developing mindfulness to become a better leader, or maybe even to just boost your wellbeing, this blog is for you.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the particular moment, and non-judgmentally.” And, mindful eating is a great way to develop the skill.
To that end, we’ve provided some free audios at the end of this blog that will help you learn how to practice mindful eating.
Food is one of the great pleasures in life. Just tell someone that they must give up their favorite foods for a specific health reason, and you will quickly see their resistance and unwillingness. Indeed, food gives most of us intense, visceral gratification.
When we practice mindful eating and remove distractions — such as the phone, television, and conversation – we give our undivided attention to the full-sensory experience of eating.
Renowned Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh has long-championed mindful eating. “Mindful eating is very pleasant. We sit beautifully. We are aware of the people surrounding us. We are aware of the food on our plates. This is a deep practice.”
Now, we realize you aren’t a Buddhist monk, and you may have little or no experience with other mindfulness techniques like meditation. But, don’t be concerned. Mindful eating isn’t difficult or intimidating. On the contrary, this is a practice to learn to fully enjoy sensory indulgence.
Savoring the flavor offers so much more than taste
When we taste, our chemical experience can be divided into five or possibly six categories: bitter, sour, sweet, salty, savory/umami, and (under discussion) fats. But what is flavor? Yes, flavor is those different tastes.
But it’s also the deeper experience of the aroma of food, the temperature, the texture, the irritation (common with chili peppers), the sight, the sound, the emotions and the memories that you experience and associate with what you are eating. When you tune in and are mindful of what food molecules have to offer, you suddenly have a much more nuanced experience of the richness on your plate.
Begin with the scent. When you take the time to really smell what is in front of you, inhaling deeply, stopping to savor, you increase your gratification. Aroma alone can make your mouth water and your stomach growl. What is the most enticing part of a cup of coffee? Often it is the aroma that will draw you in, the deep smell of freshly ground beans.
That aroma reminds you of how you feel when you drink a cup, launching a craving for the full body experience that coffee can give — the complex taste of the brew, the lift from the caffeine, the dessert-like taste when you add sweetener and cream. Scent is the gateway. It also greatly intensifies the taste of food in your mouth.
With your first bite, take time to feel your food in your mouth. The texture of food is often referred to as mouth-feel. Avocado has become a popular ingredient in chocolate mousse, not because it adds to the taste, but because its creamy fat creates a silky, luxurious texture.
When you slow down to feel the food in your mouth as you eat — to really delight in the sensation and the fullness of the flavor — you can extract so much more from the experience. If, instead, you find yourself gulping something down while scrolling through work emails on your phone, are you even aware of the pleasure that you have lost?
You may have heard the expression: you eat with your eyes first. That’s why a lot of foodservice businesses train their people in the art of food presentation. It is essential to customer satisfaction. Chefs will describe the “visual sensation” of a dish – the color, design and creativity can transmit a feeling to their patrons. When you are attuned to your feelings, settled into your own skin, expectant and open, you are ready to experience the sensation of a dish.
Practicing mindful eating gives you the time and space to learn this state of being. You certainly don’t need to dine on Michelin-starred meals in order to develop the habit. The simple snap of a shiny chocolate bar can pull you right in to the sight and sound of food. The literal melt-in-your-mouth experience of eating it, taking the time to let it turn from chunky to liquid in your mouth, can be a simple way to develop a pure focus.
Food is a physical experience with an emotional resonance. The emotion of food can be a complex jumble of flavor, aroma, nostalgia, longing, comfort, and much, much more. Shayma Saadat, now an award-winning Pakistani-Afghan-Persian food writer, cooked her grandmother’s and mother’s traditional recipes after a new marriage and a new job took her to Toronto. When she felt cold and lonely in her new city, she cooked to feel the emotional warmth of home and connection.
Amy Levin — an American living in London — is the world’s premier raw chocolatier, famous for her ultra-sophisticated and healthy desserts. Her blog and her recipes frequently reference Fig Newtons, KitKats, Snickers, and her favorite: grasshopper pie. “Chocolate and mint are such a classic combination and one of my personal faves. I mean, who didn’t eat mint chocolates as a kiddo?! And the fact that you did means you have an emotional association with it, and that makes eating it as an adult even more spectacular.
It’s always the case with flavors from our childhood, that’s why I like to focus on those so much.” As Amy says, accessing your emotional connection with food can be “spectacular.” Taking time to be silent and fully focused on your meal can give you the chance to savor memories, to re-experience childhood favorites, to reconnect with your own inner self.
Contrary to what you may assume, mindful eating can also be a time to connect with other people around you. Practicing mindfulness as a group, with everyone focused on and sharing the intensity and fullness of the meal experience together, can create great intimacy.
As human beings, we are wired for connection and belonging. A meal is a very traditional way of spending time together. Mindful eating creates the space to savor the presence of one another, the pleasure of food, and the time to relish a shared experience.
To get started, download and enjoy our free mindful eating audios
To help you develop your mindfulness skills, we’re sharing two mindful eating audio guides with you. Introduction to Mindful Eating briefly describes the practice of mindful eating, and Techniques & Practices teaches the technique itself and then provides space to practice while eating.
They are narrated by our CEO, Dr. Siddharth Ashvin Shah, whose soothing and tranquil voice will help you slow down to the speed of focused awareness.
We invite you to rely on these calming meditations, and the practice of mindful eating, to slow down the pace of life and build your mindfulness capacity. We live in a vast, beautiful, complex world saturated with variety. You have access to it every day, easily, quite literally in bite-sized pieces.
Learning to stay in the present and truly focus on the experience at hand – whether it’s eating or anything else — is key to sustained wellbeing.