The first time I came across the idea of ‘mindful eating’, the article had something to do with using chopsticks to eat. But, since I am living in Japan and already using chopsticks daily, I flipped the page and moved on to something I felt was more relevant. At that time, I never imagined that the practice they were prescribing looked so much like my mother during mango season: sitting carefree and in satisfied silence on her verandah, with a basin filled with sweet, sun-ripened mangoes, peeling away the skin with her teeth and allowing the sticky juice to run down her chin and arms. In no rush. Accepting no distractions. All while pausing to examine, admire and celebrate the tasty fruit she filled up on. Each and every year, mango season was definitely a time where I could watch my mother slow down her mind, satisfy her appetite and nourish her body with simple, real, whole food. But, I never saw it as a practice one would need to cultivate.
You see, the world that we’re raising children in today, is so different from the child-rearing days of our mothers and grandmothers. We have more to do and less time to do it in. We are constantly being told to move quickly, work faster, multitask, and do more than the next person if we want to keep up. So, of course, we are prone to skip breakfast or have it on-the-go. It’s no surprise that we serve up microwave meals on the days when we can’t eat out. Plus, the restaurants encourage us to buy from their drive-thru windows and with all the different take-out menus available, it seems like everyone eats on the run. We often have ‘working lunches’ and if we decide to step away from the desk to take our lunch break, we’re usually in a rush to get back. When we eat, it’s ‘cut and swallow’; because when you’re busy and famished, something has to take first place – it’s not usually the stuff on our plates.
As the pace of life gets faster, more of us become overweight, undernourished and start operating off frazzled brains. It’s gotten to the point where we’ve forgotten the value of long, leisurely mealtimes and become blinded to the impact of how we eat, when we eat, why we eat and what we eat. Today, we are expected to balance work commitments, social appointments, commuting and childcare responsibilities, and most of us are internally crying “unfair” as we struggle to juggle it all. We’re hurdling ahead, because we plan to die fighting, but the frustration, exhaustion, and the absence of simple pleasures, is certain to bring us to our knees, in our own tears – sooner or later.
But this doesn’t have to be the end of our stories, as 21st century mommies. We have to get back to the basics and that means a resolve towards self-preservation and a solid self-care routine. Since we eat to live, why not start with intentional and attentive eating?
It’s not as complicated as you might imagine. These are 5 simple strategies we can all employ to rediscover the joy of eating, manage weight, reduce stress levels and improve our quality of life:
1. Slow Down
Stop and pay attention. Decide to be present as you eat. Take the time to chew your food (5-10 times for soft foods and 30-50 times for denser foods) until it’s all smooth before swallowing. Rest your hands in-between bites, by putting down the food or cutlery while you chew.
Choose a time each day to stop the crazy world and unplug for some ‘you-time’: snack time, coffee break or main meals. Choose to eat real food, and increase the amount of homemade meals you enjoy.
Three times daily, we get the chance to disconnect mentally from all the hustle and bustle, to nurture our bodies and enjoy the bounty of the earth. Don’t miss out on it! Take a seat. No walking or driving while you inhale the food. Step away from the busyness and make mealtimes an important appointment with yourself.
Put away the newspaper or work report. Turn off the TV. Pull those earplugs out of your ears. Lock your phone-screen and put the laptop to sleep. Give your mind some breathing room. Forget, for just these few minutes, the problems you need to fix and the conversations on your favourite social media networks. It’s time, instead, to listen to your body.
Tune into all your senses for your meals. Inhale the aroma. Admire the shapes and colours. Listen as the textures get smashed between your teeth. Intentionally identify the flavours that swirl around your tongue. Be aware of the thoughts, emotions and physical sensations that different dishes generate in you. Give thanks!
Mindful eating allows us to unplug from the overwhelming world we live in, to return with satisfied palates, nourished bodies and grateful souls. The practice can look different for each of us, and doesn’t require much more than a mental shift. Frequent opportunities to feed ourselves intentionally and attentively will always result in more contented and whole individuals. So, remember to pause and take a deep breath before your next bite.