Working in the health and wellness space, you’re bound to hear buzzwords flying around. Mindful eating is definitely one (or two!) of them— but what is it? I don’t know about you, but in the past when people told me to be more “mindful” it felt like a veiled criticism. The darker side to the natural health and mindfulness movements is that sometimes, despite good intentions, we can weaponize our newfound knowledge and come off judgmental, rigid or not accommodating of people’s very real realities.
Mealtime has almost completely disappeared from our collective routines, in exchange for breakfasts eaten on the go (or skipped all together), lunches spent at the desk working, and dinner in front of the TV or phone to wind down. This isn’t a character flaw of the masses— this is a very real experience for many working people in a society that values productivity over wellbeing. This is why being told to be mindful can feel jarring— time is a precious commodity that many of us do not allocate for mealtimes.
Let’s decode mindful eating! All mindful eating asks us to do is implement the Buddhist concept of Mindfulness into our relationship with food and eating. This means that we pay attention to our experience of eating, be aware of our body’s physical cues (like our level of hunger), eating slowly and deliberately, and experiencing the sensations of the food we are eating— AKA, enjoying it! That’s not so bad, right?
Think about your daily routine. It doesn’t matter how busy you are— if you plan it out, you can spend 10-15 extra minutes a day eating at least one meal, undistracted without screens. Start experimenting with mindful eating by slowing down, looking at your food, smelling it, tasting it, and enjoying more. At first it will feel strange— we’re used to eating fast in our fast-paced lives. Whether you experiment first thing in the morning or during the 15 minute afternoon break you take to chat with coworkers— you can make time.
And here’s why you probably SHOULD make time:
Better digestion. When you fully chew your foods, your saliva has more time to work it’s magic. Saliva is responsible for 30% of your digestion of food. Read that again. While your teeth break food apart so you can swallow, saliva is releasing critical digestive enzymes. Your stomach and intestines will thank you for swallowing properly “pre-digested” meals. This means less upset stomachs, better stools and less bloating.
You’re fuller. Your brain knows when you’re eating because it’s constantly helping regulate your various hormones connected to appetite and getting messages from your digestive system about your current state of affairs. If you slow down and savor your food without distraction, you’ll be aware when your brain gives you the message, “Hey, stop! We’re full!” This helps people who chronically under-eat— eat more; and people who over-eat— eat less.
You feel happier. There’s science to back this up too! Mindfulness as a practice has been used for thousands of years— it predates our Western Civilization. Get to know yourself— what do you like to eat? What do you crave? What textures do you enjoy? Centering ourselves by temporarily turning off our screens and focusing on our bodies during mealtime is a great way to calm down from the stresses of life and work— and focus inward on nourishing our mind, body and soul. Food is delicious! Mindful eating just helps you enjoy it more.
Now that we’ve demystified mindful eating— try it out for yourself! Set a goal to start with just one mindful meal a day— and fully commit to it. Notice how it feels, and then keep going. When I first started eating mindful lunches, I was bored out of my mind without my phone! But a few days in, I started looking forward to the moments of peace that lunchtime brought— and I started to pack healthier and more delicious lunches.
You will never know if you don’t try! Make mealtime you time. Embark on the mindful eating adventure and prepare to be amazed.