Here are five ways to bring mindfulness into everyday eating:
1. When you eat, eat. An old Zen adage can be loosely paraphrased as follows: When you walk, walk. When you chop wood, chop wood. When you boil rice, boil rice. As much as possible try to avoid eating while doing other tasks. It is easy to lose track of how much you eat and your body’s natural signals if you are engrossed in a television show or work project.
Mealtime will “stretch to fit” whatever activity you are pairing it with. If you simply stop what you are doing to eat, you will be less motivated to extend your eating past what is necessary. Perhaps you will even be more motivated to stop eating sooner so you can resume that interesting project or show. You are also more likely to savor and enjoy your food if it is the only thing you are doing.
2. Buy the best quality food you can afford, even if you buy less of it. With an awareness of where our food comes from, begin to take small steps to buy organic, fair trade, local, seasonal, humane, non-GMO, or (whatever you define as “best quality”) foods whenever possible.
Yes, that container of organic strawberries is more expensive than the conventional version. However, when you eat them you can really savor them—admire their rich redness, natural sweetness, and wholesomeness. You will know that the farmer did not have to don a Hazmat suit to spray them with pesticides.
You will also be more inclined to eat food that is closer to its natural state when you shop like this. Rather than bury the anemic strawberries under sugar and whipped cream (and calories), you will appreciate their simple beauty and flavor, and maybe make an event of eating them as is.
3. Eat as a family. While studies show that we tend to eat more when we are in groups, studies also show many more benefits to family mealtime (improved grades, reduction in childhood obesity, improved behavior in children). The benefits of eating together clearly outweigh the small risk that you may eat more—especially if you are serving healthy food and eating without the tv or computer. The tendency to eat alone, in the tv room, or in front of our computer screens contributes to our increasing isolation from each other. This isolation leads to stress, loneliness, and emotional eating to compensate for the emptiness of modern life. Leading a mindful life means mindfully tending to our whole lives, and the contexts in which we eat.
4. Set the table with real dishes and sit down. Yes, sometimes we have to eat on the run. And yes, sometimes we eat take out. But if we begin to live more intentionally, those can be the exceptions rather than the rule.
When you eat on real dishes instead of takeout containers, you can better control your portion size. Normal-sized dinner plates are far different from the portion that comes in a takeout container (which might really be two or three portions). And they are a far cry from the platter-sized plates that restaurants use.
Also, real tableware has a way of conveying the message that you have had a real meal. What you eat on disposable plastic or paper doesn’t feel as worthy of respect, and you might not register it as “dinner” and be more likely to eat more later.
Your life simply doesn’t allow for this? No problem. Remember, we think small and attainable. Find one meal in your entire week where you can have a real, old-school, sit-down dinner. See how that goes.
5. Make eating a priority. When you sit down to a meal, your mind and body registers that you have eaten a legitimate meal. When you eat a fast food burger in the car on the way to take the kids to practice, your body does not think “meal” and you are more likely to eat more than you should during the rest of the day. You are likely to classify food on the run as “not really eating.” This is also true when people eat standing up, in the car, or while working. When you deliberately, intentionally make healthy eating important, your body will check off the official “ate a meal” box and you will be less likely to compensate by over-eating later.