Bon Appetit!

Remember: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

I recently attended a day of mindfulness.  It was a time for me to unwind, be led, and address my own self-care at the end of a busy week.  Having participated in a variety of mindfulness courses over the past 15 years, I am used to the layout and the types of activities that I would be participating in.  We engaged in guided meditations, a body scan and some debriefing and sharing.  However, at lunch time, we were introduced to something fairly new to me – Mindful Eating.  I have learned that we can be mindful in most things that we do; speaking, listening, dancing, walking, movement of all kinds, sitting, teaching, parenting… and so it only makes sense that we could be mindful while eating as well.  While the concept of mindful eating made sense to me, the act itself came as a challenge.

Life can be busy.  With this busyness, many of us claim to be and take pride in being multi-taskers.  We might even present this skill as our best asset during an interview or on a resume because we believe it is a desirable skill set.  The question is, is it?  Is it best to divide our attention to a number of different tasks, finishing bits and pieces at various times, or should we provide our full undivided attention to one item at a time, ensuring our best focus has gone into each aspect of it?

Eating is like this for me.  I’m sure the many teachers, parents and busy individuals of the world who are reading this, can relate to what I am about to say.  I’ll admit it.  I take pride in the lunch periods at work where I’m marking a paper in one hand, answering a phone call from the office, assisting a student with work they had not quite finished, photocopying a set of tests, answering to my name (that was just called 100 times in a row), all while shoving a scoop of food into my mouth between, “Johnny please sit back down” and “Jenny please throw out your garbage.” (Insert breath here).  Is this impressive?  Or is this just downright out of control and the complete opposite of the mindfulness practices I have been talking about?

In reflecting on these moments of insanity and then participating in the mindful eating practice at my workshop, I have come to the realization that this is one custom that I not only need to practise and adopt, but that I need to share with my students as well.  Like anything, we need to be taught how to engage in these types of practices.  A school day is often very rushed in many respects.  Children are asked to hurry up and get in line, hurry up and finish eating so they can go out and play, hurry up and get back in line so they don’t miss their lunch, hurry to get gym clothes on so phys. ed. is not missed….the list of hurries goes on.  It’s no wonder that kids then adopt the same multi-tasking habits as adults do.  They have not been taught to slow down and to eat with purpose.

Eating with purpose and awareness can be not only beneficial for our health (digestion and absorption), but for our enjoyment too.  Eating mindfully can help you reclaim the pleasure of food.  When we eat with purpose, we begin to use more of our senses that allow us to experience the little pleasures in life.  We begin to smell the delights of our food and really taste the flavours that are available.  We might begin to sense the textures and feel enjoyment in the company that surrounds us while we share a meal.

Mindful eating can happen in a variety of different ways.  My first experience began as an awkward one.  I was in a room full of people, looking inward at one another in a circle and we were in silence while eating each bite with ‘purpose.’  For someone with a ‘multi-tasking’ list as extensive as mine, this practice was uncomfortable.  Discomfort can be a good thing however.  As I gave it a chance (I’m doing that a lot lately – refer to my recent blog “Dance Like No One’s Watching), I sunk into the process on a deeper and deeper level.  I grew an appreciation for this time that I had to enjoy my food and my gratitude for food itself was enhanced.

I can’t say that I have completely dropped my list of superwoman tasks during lunch periods as of yet, but through this experience I have been reminded of the importance of mindfulness in all aspects of our daily life.  I am taking baby steps.  I now make a more conscientious effort to put the papers aside and join my colleagues in a shared meal, even if for only 20 minutes a day.  I feel better on these days.  Give it a try and let me know if you wish your teacher had taught it 😉

Tips For Mindful Eating:

  • Before eating a meal, give gratitude for the food in front of you (just say a simple thanks in your mind, or go one step further to think about all that went into your food arriving on your table – farmers, factory workers, store clerks etc.)
  • Take a moment to do some deep breathing before eating, so that you can eat in total relaxation and remove the stresses of the moment or of the day.
  • Remove any distractions from your environment (turn off the television, put paperwork away, put cell phones aside).
  • Eat with purpose and attention. Take a bite and fully chew and swallow your food before taking another bite, or even pause for longer in between (it may sound obvious, but this was the trickiest part for me as we are so used to shoveling in one bite before the previous one is even done). This process allows us to taste our food, improve our digestion and help us to properly recognize when we’re full.
  • Experience each bite from start to finish – focus on the taste, the texture, and the aroma.
  • Watch your thoughts – yes, by monitoring our thoughts while we are eating, we are adding to the experience. Try not to think of your list of to-dos and notice if you’re judging yourself based on what you’re eating or how you’re feeling about your body.  Being aware of these thought patterns will allow you to make positive changes.
  • If you are enjoying a meal with others, engage in positive chit chat.
  • If you are eating alone, enjoy the silence and really allow yourself that time to engage in the process of being mindful about your eating habits.
  • Use your non-dominant hand, or a baby utensil for eating; it will help you to slow down the process and be more present.
  • Finish your meal with more gratitude and allow yourself a little more time to sit and digest before getting right back to your list of to-dos!

Bon Appetit!           mindful eating

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