Mindful Eating

(Photo: Penelope Cruz film still)

(Photo: Penelope Cruz film still)

How often do you actually think about your food when you are eating it?  Do you savour the taste and give it the full appreciation it deserves?

More often than not, even if we are craving a particular style of meal, most of us still shovel it in so quickly that it barely gives us time to experience it, which often leaves us wanting more even though we are probably quite full already.   Most of us love food, however if we love it so much, why don't we give it proper attention?

I had the experience recently when at a meditation retreat of being taught mindful eating.  Now while this was not a new concept to me, the way in which it was done bought new meaning!

Our New Years Eve feast was prepared by a beautiful Argentinian girl who had put an extreme amount of effort into the dishes prepared.  However we weren't permitted to just dig in, instead she took us through a process of really savouring the food and experiencing every sensation.  Slowly, in a very sexy Spanish accent (think Penelope Cruz - which had everyone, men and women falling just that little bit in love) she talked us through the steps of eating mindfully.

See - First we were encouraged to look at the food on our plates.  What colour was it?  Shape? Texture? 

Smell - What was the aroma like?  Taking the time to actually bring it to our noses, savouring the different smells.

Touch - When you first bought the food to your lips what did it feel like?  Was it smooth, hard, rough, what was the texture?  How did it feel on your tongue?

Hear - Yes you can even bring hearing into it - did it crunch?  Also the sounds that are playing in the background have been researched to show that it makes a difference to how we react to our food, so our atmospheric noise does affect the way we feel about what we are eating. 

And of course last, but certainly not least....

Taste - What does it taste like?  What are the flavours?  Did the taste stay the same? Actually chew the food, whirl it round in your mouth a little.  Was there an after taste? 

This process actually took a minute or so for each bite.  Since there was an array of tapas for us to sample, the range of experience was ample, and I can honestly say it was the first time I have ever appreciated food in this way. 

Of course subconsciously we can do this is seconds, but the joy of actually eating is usually lost in the process.  However taking it slowly actually helps us rediscover our food and almost getting to know what we like all over again and why.

So while that is the sexy part of eating our food.  Lets talk about chewing! 

I read a great quote on the My New Roots blog recently "last time I checked I don't have teeth in my stomach" which made me laugh, and how true it is.

There are a number of reasons why chewing our food properly is so necessary.  The main one is that you are able to absorb the nutrients more easily if it is broken down into smaller particles, which is overall one of the most beneficial things we can do for our health.

What's the point in cooking super nutritious dishes just for all the goodness to be lost?

Chewing our food is the first step in digestion which signals to our stomach to prepare the appropriate stomach acids.   The saliva that kicks in when we chew begins the process of enzymes getting to work, breaking down fats and starches before you even swallow.

Digestion is a very demanding process on our bodies and takes a lot of energy, especially on improperly chewed food, so if our food is in smaller pieces our intestines can more easily absorb the nutrients into our systems and work more efficiently.   

Chewing our food also helps less bacteria enter our bloodstream and bodies.  If you don't chew your food properly undigested pieces can enter into the intestine.  It will then literally start to putrefy as bacteria gets to work to try to break it down.  This can lead to gas, indigestion, bloating, abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhoea or constipation.  (sorry told you this bit wasn't sexy!) 

Additionally, it takes a while for our brain to register that our stomach is full, approximately 20 mins.  So if we chew our food and eat slowly it gives time for us to realise we are satiated and stop us from over consuming. If you are eating at a million miles an hour you will likely keep going even if you have probably had enough, so if you are wanting to lose a few kilos, eating more mindfully will in general help you eat less calories.

Ideally you chew about 30 times per bite, while I know this seems a lot, if you are savouring each mouthful this is much easier to do.  Taking smaller bites is also helpful and there should be almost no texture left to the food before you swallow.... and lets make sure we finish one bite before taking another! 

What are you doing while you are eating?  This is also another key element in appreciating our food.  Are you distracted and on the run, working at your desk or perusing Facebook?  If you are concentrating on where you have to get to, the work you are doing, or the latest social media update, it means we are not focusing on the task at hand, we miss the pleasure in it, and also you are therefore likely to overeat and possibly even make choices that are not as nutritiously sound.  I know we all lead busy lives, but taking the time out from the computer for some quiet mental space is going to give you more energy and creativity in the long term.  And of course sharing meals with friends and family is another beautiful way to appreciate our food.  

Practicing gratefulness is a great opportunity to focus more attentively to how you eat.  A friend of mine years ago taught me a great little exercise that I do try to do, especially during breakfast time when the day is a little quieter.   Basically it is thanking everything for how the food got to you. The farmers that planted the seeds, toiled the soil and harvested the produce.  The truck driver that drove it to the grocer, the person that stocked the shelves and the man/woman at the shop that sold it to you.  Who made the plate you are eating off, the knife and fork, the stove that cooked it?  Who cooked the meal?  Even if you made it yourself be grateful for your capabilities to be able to provide for yourself, and even the work you had to do to have money to put food on the table.  Literally looking down at the meal in front of you and being thankful for everything that got it to your plate.  It is actually an endless list once you get going!   

So lets put all our senses into our food, without being too dramatic there are many out there that don't have the blessings that we do to have a delicious meal on our plates. 

For me eating this way helps me make healthier choices about what I am putting into my body, and taking time out in the day to just appreciate the food is something over time I know has definitely contributed to my overall satisfaction of the meals I eat.  

Let's be mindful of every bite!