I’m a good eater. Well, I should rephrase that: I love to eat. And the food I love to eat is healthy … full of color and nutrients, and mostly plant-based. Green smoothies, kale salads, sprouted grains and veggie stews excite me. When I’m not eating, I’m most likely thinking about what I’ll eat next.
This is where the story gets strange. If I take such great care to prepare my food, why is it gone in under a minute?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a fast eater. I think I unintentionally trained myself to eat quickly when I was in high school. I always forfeited lunch period for an extra photography or theatre class. I would shove my lunch through my lips in four bites or less so I could free my hands up for my camera, and have my voice free for the next monologue.
Unfortunately, the busy bee in me has continued this bad habit into my adult life. It’s common for me to eat in a meeting or at my desk while typing an email or editing an article … or sometimes even on a phone call, trying to hide my bites with small moments of the mute button. That beautiful homemade salmon salad over kale was washed down with my pineapple ginger juice in under a minute. What took 30 minutes to prepare often vanishes in 30 seconds.
A few years ago when I started to get serious about troubleshooting my digestive issues, I read that the act of chewing your food is the first step in digesting it. Because our saliva actually holds enzymes that start to break down carbs as you chew, simply chewing more carefully can solve many digestive complaints.
Chewing: “What a novel idea!” I thought. I started to try it. Most of the time, I admittedly forgot, but sometimes I moved through meals at a slower pace. And that sometimes has turned into half of the time, which is a giant improvement for me.
Today, I participated in an all-day silent retreat with my MBSR class. We took 90 minutes in the middle of the day to eat our lunches mindfully, taking the food in through all of our senses. The teacher first discussed the seven types of hunger that exist:
- Eye hunger: hunger based on the food once we see it
- Nose hunger: hunger based on the smell
- Mouth hunger: hunger based on how much our mouth wants to be filled
- Stomach hunger: hunger based on how empty or full our stomachs may be
- Cellular hunger: how hungry is our body and how do we know when we’re hungry?
- Mind hunger: are we hungry because we “should” eat? Does our mind want to eat more than our body?
- Heart hunger: Are there emotions behind the desire to eat? Will the food provide comfort or ease?
She encouraged us then to eat with this in mind, and to feel our way through the act of eating, taking the food in through all of our senses. Observing what it feels like to take a big bite and chew it slowly, compared to what it feels like to have an empty mouth, awaiting the next bite, in contrast to tiny nibbles of food. The process was hard for me. It was the first time I’ve ever eaten that slowly. We were supposed to be eating a mindful meal each week, but every time I tried in the past, my conditioning would kick in and after a few, mindful bites, I would forget the “mindful” part of the project and get down to the business of devouring my delicious food.
I spent 25 or 30 minutes on my sandwich today. No conversation, no cell phone, no music or distraction. Just me and my sandwich. And I can say that I actually enjoyed eating from a totally different perspective. Now the mission becomes bringing sentiments of it into my daily life without it taking up my entire day.
Mindful Eating Practice
For today’s practice, I’m recommending that you eat something mindfully. This could be a raisin, as the exercise below indicates, or you can try eating a meal in silence, paying close attention to all of your senses as you eat without other distractions. Jon Kabat-Zinn notes that when you pay attention in an intimate way to what you’re eating, your relationship to the food changes.
I’m going to copy the exercise from Kabat-Zinn’s book, “Full Catastrophe Living,” as an example you can use for the mindful eating practice. You can try the practice with a raisin, as the first MBSR class does, or you can consider committing to a whole meal—really enjoying the food, one morsel at a time.
“First, we bring our attention to seeing one of the raisins, observing it carefully as if we had never seen one before. We feel its texture between our fingers and notice its colors and surfaces. We are also aware of any thoughts we might be having about raisins or food in general. We note any thoughts and feelings of liking or disliking raisins if they come up while we are looking at it. We then smell it for a while, and finally, with awareness, we bring it to our lips, being aware of the arm moving the hand to position it correctly, and of salivating as the mind and body anticipate eating. The process continues as we take it into our mouth and chew it slowly, experiencing the actual taste of one raisin. And when we feel ready to swallow, we watch the impulse to swallow as it comes up, so that even that is experienced consciously. We even imagine, or “sense,” that now our bodies are one raisin heavier. Then we do it again with another raisin … in silence. And then with the third.”
~Jon Kabat-Zinn, [Excerpt from page 15 of “Full Catastrophe Living“]