5 Helpful Steps to Mindful Eating
Mindfulness: "Be Here Now." This is a concept that has been the heart of several Eastern doctrines for millennia, and has been skirting the mainstream of Western culture for decades. It's simple; if you actually pay attention to what you are doing (rather than doing things on autopilot while your brain is busy thinking about something that isn't right in front of you), that thing you're doing gets done better, and you feel more engaged — possibly even more alive — because of it.
Mindful Eating is exactly what it sounds like; the ability to actually pay full attention to the process of eating. The weight of the fork…the smell of the balsamic dressing…the sound of the red pepper chunk as you stab it…the reverberation as you bite down…the incredible zing of the dressing mixing with the ever-so-faintly-bitter sweetness of the pepper.
Are you drooling yet? That's because you're imagining everything you're reading. But how often do you actually devote that level of attention to the bites you are taking during a meal? Here's how to change that:
Eliminate the Distractions
Almost everyone in America eats with something to do at hand; even if you're one of those lovely folk who have successfully banned the TV and smartphone from the dinner table, you probably bring a newspaper, or count on your family to distract you with conversation. Banish all of that, and make mealtime a quiet space where you can bring your full attention to bear on the task at hand.
Application: Implement a rule for a simple two-week experiment; during mealtimes, everything is turned off, and any conversation is kept to discussing things that are literally currently happening at the table.one from the dinner table, you probably bring a newspaper, or count on your family to distract you with conversation. Banish all of that, and make mealtime a quiet space where you can bring your full attention to bear on the task at hand.
Pavlovian Training: Setting a 'Mindfulness Trigger.'
The first level of training is on the subconscious level; you have to create an association between a state of mindfulness and a specific action that you take. The easiest mindfulness triggers are transitions; any event where you are physically moving from one environment to another. Opening a door, for example, or sitting in a chair.
Application: Find the chairs you sit in most across the course of a day, and put up a note at each chair that says "Awareness." For the next two weeks, make a deliberate effort to simply drop your train of thought every time you sit down, and let the notes remind you. Because you (presumably) sit down to eat, you'll begin every meal in a completely automatic mindful state.
Meditation has been proven to help people slip into a mindful state more easily. However, a lot of us seem to think we can't do it. One of the greatest misunderstandings about meditation in the Western world is that it is something you do; it's not. The great secret of meditation is that it is exactly the same as waiting. The only catch is you have to wait without allowing your brain to start screaming at you about some past or potential future event. If you can wait and allow your thoughts to slip away without grasping and cogitating on them, congratulations: you are a better meditator than most of us.
Application: The next time you find yourself 'on hold' while someone else finishes eating, or while you wait for an event to become 'now,' don't pick up your tablet or book or phone. Don't start griping at someone nearby. Recognize the opportunity, and simply wait, letting your mind wander but clinging to nothing that it comes up with. If you can practice slipping into this state because you have to (nothing else better to do), it will become easier to do it when you want to (e.g. as dinner is being made) — and "waitidating" your time away until the food arrives will put you in a perfect position to begin dinner with mindfulness.
With enough time and practice, these steps will help you maintain a mindful state through your entire meal, and that is a goal worth working toward!
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