A heaping plate of pasta is placed on the dinner table. The first instinct is to plunge a fork into the hot noodles and shovel the meal down, satisfying a grumbling stomach. But before long, dinner has disappeared and it is difficult to recall how it even tasted.
Take a step back. Set the fork down and engage every sense with each mouthful of food. Analyze the texture, appreciate the taste, acknowledge the different spices and sweeteners and most of all, put the enjoyment back into eating.
This process is called mindful eating and, in today’s hyperactive world, it is an act commonly forgotten.
Mindful eating spurs from the ancient Buddhist teaching of mindfulness. Mindfulness focuses on enlightening followers to pay close attention to the reality of the present moment and actively avoid disillusionments, greed and hatred. The practice of living in the now can be implemented in several different ways, and one of those ways is through food.
Dieticians and health experts have embraced the ancient art of mindful eating by acknowledging the process as more than just a fad diet. Mindful eating does not limit food options. Instead, it emphasizes the wonders of Buddhist mindfulness by releasing negative judgment and concentrating on the positive experience of food.
“There have been many research studies that focus on mindful eating, also known as intuitive eating, and show a positive correlation with better health, better overall body image and less weight concerns,” health educator and counselor at San Diego State’s Student Health Services, Tracy Daly, said. “This healthy form of slow eating puts you in touch with your body and your hunger cues, something that I think many people are not in touch with anymore.”
According to Daly, it takes the brain about 20 minutes to connect with the stomach. This means if a large amount of food is consumed too quickly, the stomach is not given enough time to determine if it is full. For this reason, overeating often becomes routine, contributing to epidemic cases of obesity and eating disorders.
Mindful eaters counter the fast consumption of delicious meals, snacks and drinks by concentrating on the colors, smells, flavors and textures of food while acknowledging the process of how the food came to the plate. Mindful eating experts advise eaters to chew each bite between 25 and 30 times to effectively experience food as it is being consumed.
It may appear mindful eating requires a disproportionate amount of energy for such a simple process, but Daly confirms it is doable.
“In my professional opinion, there are components of mindful eating that can be extreme,” Daly said. “But there are also realistic goals, such as remembering to eat consistently throughout the day, recognizing when you are hungry and full and drinking plenty of water.”
Mindful eating can be practiced gradually throughout the day with the simple act of taking three patient sips of tea or bites of a sandwich between classes. Even baby steps can inspire positive lifestyle changes.
“Mindful or intuitive eating is a positive way of thinking and eating and is a lifestyle that needs to be practiced over time,” Daly said. “Making small, measurable goals to change eating patterns and habits are the best way to remain healthy.”