Most of us know what we should eat. And we definitely know what we shouldn’t eat--we get bombarded with diet and nutritional information on an almost-daily basis. Everywhere we look, we are blasted with the latest diet trend; the secret lemon juice/aloe vera gel concoction that promises to shrink your waist (I’m kidding—please don’t drink that!); the next new super food from some far away jungle that adds 10 more years to your life; why what you’ve been eating for years is silently killing you—the list goes on and on.
What we don’t talk about much is the ‘how’ or ‘Tao’ of what we eat. The word ‘Tao’ is a Chinese concept that translates to mean ‘the way’. I’d like to talk about the Tao of eating. I don’t just mean putting fork to face, I mean the practice of eating mindfully. Of making mealtimes a special time to sit down and relax, and to make nourishing our bodies a pleasure and a priority. In our fast-paced culture, taking time to be present when we eat does not tend to be top on our to-do list. Let’s look at a example scenario:
-6am: alarm goes off, get up, shower and dress
-6:30am: get the kids up and dressed for school
-6:45am: run downstairs, feed the kids, throw their lunches together, get out the door
-7:15am: grab a cup of coffee and a muffin from the drive-thru, eat while driving the kids to school
-8:05am: get to work, mostly on time
-12pm: have a big meeting tomorrow, eat at your desk while working (or maybe just skip lunch and save even more time)
-3pm: feeling the mid-afternoon slump, more coffee and a snack bar to tide you over
-6pm: get out of work late, pick up kids from soccer practice
-6:15pm: pick up a pizza on the way home, the kids eat dinner in front of the TV, you eat dinner while looking over your meeting presentation
-8pm: feeling a little indigestion from the pizza, pop an antacid before bed
-6am: alarm goes off, feeling tired and sluggish, didn’t sleep well last night, more coffee!
Does any of that sound familiar? While this example may not be exactly like your day-to-day, it illustrates how we get so wrapped up in our busy lives that we forget to take time out of our day to simply sit and eat. When we rush through our meals, all the while thinking of what we have to do next, or scrolling through our newsfeed, we disconnect ourselves from the present moment and what we’re doing in it. Our food digests poorly, we overeat because we’re not paying attention to how much we’ve already eaten, and we miss out on the experience of really enjoying our food—a wonderful source of pleasure and nourishment.
When we eat with mindfulness, we give ourselves break to calm down in the midst of our busy day. Our bodies relax, which helps our food digest and nutrients absorb. When we clear our minds (even if just for a few moments) and bring our awareness to the present moment, we see the colors of our food more vividly, we taste nuances of flavors we never noticed before, we tend to eat a little slower and a little less. Just the simple act of feeding ourselves transforms into joyful nourishment for body, mind and spirit
I’d like to share an excerpt from Cooking for Fertility by Kathryn Flynn, a wonderful cookbook that’s available in my office. Kathryn gives us some tips on how to incorporate more mindful eating:
Preparing your food mindfully means learning to enjoy the process from beginning to end. Try some of the following methods to introduce pleasure into your daily diet:
Buy Local, Fresh Food
When shopping, try to choose organic foods whenever possible. Consider what grows from the earth and what will nourish your body. Ideally we would buy fresh food each day to be cooked that night. If lifestyle permits buy from your local farmers market or buy local produce.
Set the scene for pleasurable eating
So often we eat on the fly, talking on the phone, watching tv, completely distracted. Consider a different experience: set the table for yourself, put on some calming music and light some candles. Be it breakfast, lunch or dinner, treat yourself like royalty and take some time to nourish and relax.
Bless your meal
At thanksgiving people often say grace but it is not a common practice in many homes. Taking some time to be grateful for the food on your plate and blessings in your life infuse you with the feelings of love and appreciation, invoking the pleasure feeling. Silent or out loud, a blessing can set the tone for a delicious meal.
Taste each bite!
Now that you are all set to enjoy your meal. Take the time to taste the food. Some recommend up to 30 bites per chew, putting your fork down in between. By liquefying the food in your mouth, the digestion process is improved drastically and no water is needed to wash down the food.
So next time you eat, sit down and take a deep breath. Remove any electronics or distractions (Sorry, the kids don’t count as distractions. Sit them down to eat, too!), and bring your awareness into the present moment. Take a bite and chew slowly. Notice the texture and flavors of your food. Remind yourself that eating is about pleasure just as much as sustenance. Enjoy a pleasant conversation with your family (or enjoy a moment of peaceful solitude). Nourish yourself in joyful gratitude, and turn mealtimes into a daily practice in the Tao of Eating.