When you pick up an orange from a bowl of fruit, are you very mindful of what you are doing? Probably not; our general attitude towards food in this day and age is basically one of supply and demand. We feel hungry, we eat. Our body or mind craves comfort food, we supply it.
Should this really be the state of affairs? Do people today have a healthy relationship with food? Is a relationship with food even necessary?
To answer all these introspective questions let us go back to that orange you selected. Why don’t you turn it around in your hands? Feel the smooth glossy skin (valencia orange) or the rough pitted exterior (mandarin orange). Now hold it close to your face and breathe in that lovely, fresh, tangy citrus aroma. Equal to, if not better than, a scented candle or aroma therapy oil, isn’t it? Just breathing in a refreshing scent can sometimes work wonders for an over-stretched or over-worked brain.
Okay! Now that your olfactory neurons have processed the citrus scent and finally woken up your tired brain let’s get on with the orange. Let’s peel it: if you are doing this with your hands you will get some lovely citrus oil on your fingers (more aromatherapy). If you are peeling your orange with a knife, let’s see if you can get all the rind off in one unbroken piece: a good exercise for hand-eye coordination. Alright, now I will let you enjoy your orange in peace but you must appreciate that this kind of mindfulness exercise is just the thing for a break in long hours spent in front of a computer.
Just as happiness is the absence of sadness, mindful eating is the absence of mindless eating. Mindless eating has crept into modern lifestyles slowly but surely over the past several decades. Fast food, takeaway, delivery, tea and coffee to go; all are part of the multi-tasking culture of yuppiedom.
Our constant need of stimulation, whether it is playing electronic games, checking our Facebook status or just watching plain old television, has resulted in an epidemic of mindless eating. When families congregate for dinner, it is often in front of the telly, making eating mindless and conversation extinct. Most people nowadays like to eat on trays our trolleys in front of the TV in their sitting room or lounge. Hardly anyone uses the dining table anymore except for formal entertaining. One family I know has carried this to the next level. They have a TV set mounted above their dining table. The family that eats together watches together? Not necessarily, I have seen another family sharing a meal on a large dining table with their laptops placed in front of their dinner plates, each person engrossed in their own favourite show. So much for eating at the table!
TV, however, is not the only culprit behind this mindless attitude towards food. Stress, whether job related, or family induced, or pre exam or interview often prevents us from focusing on many aspects of life, eating among them. Hence we scarcely notice what we are eating or drinking. This way, not only do we often eat well past our need, but we deprive ourselves of all the subconscious psychological benefits of a relaxed meal. Behavioral psychologists, nutritionists and medical practitioners all emphasize the significance of eating mindfully.
Here are six benefits of mindful eating:
- Mindful eating is a feast for the five senses.
We often forget that eating is an experience that stimulates all of our senses. The aroma that pervades the house when you roast spices for a curry or the heavenly scent of vanilla when you are baking, are as much a part of eating as taste. Food presented as a decorative display is far more appetizing than the same food thrown in a bowl any which way.
Shelling nuts yourself (as opposed to buying them ready shelled) makes them much more satisfying by stimulating your sense of touch.Hearing the bell or gong that signals a meal produces salivation in humans and dogs alike (a la Pavlov).
- Mindful eating is good for dieters.
Saying that mindful eating helps you stick to a diet is a bit like overstating the obvious. I can tell you from personal experience that when one is on the go morning till evening one tends not to notice what goes in one’s mouth. Many a high calorie meal is wolfed down when you are busy and calorie counting is furthest from your mind.
Those who want to shed the pounds and inches must always pay attention to what they eat. Mindful eating involves taking time to savour food, taking smaller bites, and chewing slowly. All of these result in a smaller intake as well as an increased satiety. Slow chewing and chewing well gets the digestive juices flowing, giving rise to better digestion and faster metabolism.
- Mindfulness breeds empathy.
When we are mindful of food, i.e. when we are cognizant of its presence and abundance, we are more aware of the consequences of its scarcity. Consciously thinking when we sit down to a meal and being grateful for what we have before us makes us more sensitive to the plight of those who do not have enough. This makes us less likely to waste food and more aware and willing to share our resources with the needy.
- Mindful eating develops self-awareness.
These days there is a lot of emphasis on finding oneself. Books like Eat Pray Love and Wild document the journey that their authors took in search of that elusive being: one’s self. Finding oneself or self-awareness is a concept akin to mindfulness. Being mindful of what we put in our mouths: the colour, the texture, the aroma, and the taste all heighten our awareness or powers of perception. This perception or insightfulness then continues into our psyche, bringing with it awareness of self.
- Mindful eating forces you to unplug and unwind.
Mindful eating by definition requires you to be unplugged while you eat. This means no TV, no smart phone, no laptop, absolutely no devices. This allows you to focus on yourself, your food, and the people you are eating with. This makes for a very healthful meal for the mind as well as the body.
- Mindful eating encourages social engagement.
The social aspect of mindful eating has its own benefits. Sharing a meal stimulates social discourse, bonding, relationships, and all the rest of it.
It also produces a very small, very practical and very effective benefit. When eating with other people, we often put down our fork or pause eating to emphasize a point by gesticulating. These small pauses are very significant in bringing into play all the benefits of slow eating: quicker satiety, better digestion etc.
When eating in front of the telly, we continuously shovel food into our mouths, perhaps pausing during commercial breaks to quickly refill our plates. Social engagement with real people during a meal has many advantages. It improves mood and reduces anxiety. It also cures and prevents eating disorders like binge eating, emotional eating, and eating from stress, anxiety and boredom.
What is your take on mindful eating? Do you feel it is relevant to how we live in the 21st century? I would love to know how you feel about it. Please drop a line in the comments section.