Lately I have been practicing my chewing and really trying to slow down as much as possible while eating. Growing up I always ate very fast. My Dad eats fast so maybe I was trying to be like him, I am not sure. When I went on my first meditation retreat (for my 29th birthday) we were instructed to eat in silence and practice mindful eating. I had never even heard of this concept before but found great comfort in the idea, especially being on a retreat where I did not know anyone. It seemed ideal to not have to worry about making small talk (one of my least favorite activities) or strategically plan where to sit. Eating in silence took all of the pressure off. I loved it.
Or so I thought.
A few minutes into the meal I became extremely uncomfortable. I started noticing how fast I ate. How much I “bit and swallowed” my food instead of chewing it. I noticed how before I had finished swallowing my spoonful of food, the spoon was already back in the bowl scooping up more food to shovel into my mouth. It was unreal to actually pay attention to how I ate. I wondered what I had been rushing for. I got glimpses of times when I ate for emotional reasons when I was not even hungry. It was such an eye and heart opening experience for me. I will never forget that weekend.
Since then I have been on many meditation retreats and all of them have had silent meal times whether the entire retreat was silent or not. I have enjoyed all of those meals. I always eat less too. Last May while I was at the Ann Wigmore Institute we had classes on chewing. It was similar to the mindful eating practices of the retreats but added on a new dimension because we learned about the importance of chewing properly for our digestion. The bottom line is if we do not chew well enough to allow the enzymes in our mouth to do their job we will not gain as much of the nutrients from the food. Poorly chewed food can also cause bloating, gas, and other issues.
Slowing down enough to eat mindfully and chew well is taking a lot of practice on my part. It does not come naturally to me. For years I have eaten out with friends, in busy establishments, in front of the computer, while reading, in the car, you get the idea. Trying to eat mindfully while doing anything else is not possible for me.
In order to commune with the food and get into the experience of eating not just for fuel but for a connection to the earth is truly a practice. In many ways it is a scared act of love. When I prepare a beautiful meal, clear the table, and sit down to eat I find it is one of the most peaceful times and such a profound way to nourish myself. It is an essential self-care action and I am grateful for my willingness to continue to practice mindful eating in the midst of this busy world. It’s one thing on a retreat, for me it is much more challenging to practice in everyday life.
Here are some simple ways to practice mindful eating:
- eat at a table, on the floor, or in a nice spot outside
- make sure that where you are eating is clean and free of clutter
- if you feel like it set a place for yourself and/or light a candle
- turn off the tv, computer
- do not read or talk on the phone
- sit up straight
- before you begin eating take a deep breath and thank all of the people that made this food possible
- take deep breaths between bites
- chew each bite as many times as you can, pay attention to the taste and texture of the food
- notice if your mind is wandering and bring it back to eating
- try to take at least 20 minutes to eat your meal, preferably more
- smile and know that you are taking good care of yourself
I would encourage you to try to have one mindful meal as often as you can, perhaps start with one a week and see how it goes. I started very slow and have worked this practice into my life. I have learned so much about myself through this process and have been able to navigate my way through some emotional struggles that were food related as well. I will be posting more about this in the future as it becoming an integrated part of my everyday experience.
Please feel free to share your experiences with this if you feel comfortable doing so. Thank you for reading and I will post again soon. Goodnight.