November 2, 2010

You Are How You Eat. ~ Dan Slanger

Eating can be good for you(r mind).

A Mindful Eating Primer

Abstract: Eating is an occasion to meditate. In this post I (1) explain how to meditate while eating, (2) list some reasons to meditate while eating, and (3) list some resources for learning more about (1) and (2).

How To Meditate While Eating

I put “eat” on my iCal every day. I put it under “practice”—with “sit” and “yoga”—because eating a meal meditatively is a good way to practice mindfulness. Before I detail why it’s good, here’s what it is (at least for me):

(1) Find some food. At least to start, pick whatever food you want. However, for meditative eating, I sometimes find it easier to focus when I eat “earthy” food that takes a few chews to want to swallow. I also like finger food. So, for example, a small plate of cut fruit and raw almonds might work well. But, again, to start, whatever you want. Since part of the benefit of meditative eating is coming to associate a feeling of calm with foods you might otherwise feel stressed over eating, you might want to pick a piece of cake.

(2) Take a seat. With the food before you, take a seat and keep a straight back, looking straight ahead.

(3) Pick a point (or two). Pick one or two reference points to keep focused on as you eat. I usually bounce between attending to my mouth (visualize the food as it enters my mouth, visualize my teeth and tongue as I chew and dissolve the food) and my back (keep it straight).

(4) Take a break. Between each unit of food you put in your mouth, put your hands on you lap and keep them there as you slowly, attentively chew your food until it has an even, smooth texture and you’ve exploited the bite for all it’s worth.

(5) Set a timer. I use the same kitchen timer I use for zazen. I set it for anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes. If I finish my food before the timer goes off, I just keep my hands in my lap and keep paying attention to my mouth and back until the time is up. If I still have food after the time is up, I either keep meditatively eating until it’s gone or I just put the food in the fridge and return to it when I’m hungry. If you don’t have a kitchen timer, you could set a watch or eye a clock (but try not to eye the clock too often).

There’s more to mindful eating but I’ll let the links below flesh things out. The gist is to pay attention to some set of reference points that run through the experience of eating a meal—much like zazen or yoga is, at least on one level, a matter of attending to some set of reference points—breath, spine, gaze—that run through the experience of sitting on a pillow or moving through a pose.

Some Reasons To Meditate While Eating

Meditative eating is the first piece of advice I tell friends and family who express an interest in improving their diet. The practice:

(1) Makes you eat a little less yet feel a little fuller. It might just be because you’re forcing yourself to slow down and so your brain has time to talk to your stomach. But I imagine part of it is that, when we’re calm and less stressed from the meditation, we’re less likely to want to overeat (a pretty natural, common response to stress and wayward emotions).

(2) Gives you an organic way to fit meditation into your schedule. Sometimes it’s hard to make time for yoga or zazen but we’re likely going to spend twenty minutes on a meal a few times a day because we’re going to get hungry and because eating is enjoyable.

(3) Improves your digestion. Slow chews let your saliva do what it was meant to do—help your stomach out so it doesn’t get overworked.

(4) Makes food taste so much better. When you’re eating as quickly as you can and surfing your inbox and the news-feed as you do, you’re not paying attention to the rich, subtle taste and texture of your food.

Some Resources For Learning More About Mindful Eating

(1) The Center For Mindful Eating

(2) mindfuleating.org

(3) Savor:Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung

(4) Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Joy Chozen Bays

(5) Do a Google search for “mindful eating” and you’ll find many enthusiastic, evangelical bloggers and authors writing on the topic.

Dan Slanger likes to bike around town and be on mountains. You can write him at dslanger(at)gmail(dot)com or find him on Facebook.

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