A Year of Living Mindfully: Mindfulness helps us savour our food, and eat guilt free
When it comes to eating, there is no shortage of advice about what, how much and when we should eat. Eating food and nourishment are emotionally loaded issues. We are full of “shoulds” and “should nots”. Often these voices reflect what we heard in our early years.
We use food to save our lives, to nourish us when we are bone-weary, overwhelmed or lonely. We often use food to flatten our lives. And we sometimes use it to put a skin over our feelings instead of feeling them.
Mindful eating helps us develop some awareness, some curiosity and a bit of tenderness about our relationship with food.
It’s not about adding another judgmental voice to the chorus that looks over our shoulder every time we consider what to eat.
If anything, it’s about clearing out that crowded room in our heads and savouring our food, guilt free.
Mindful eating is one of the oldest practices in mindfulness. I’m brutal at it. I’m constantly amazed at how rapidly I consume food. In fact, I inhale it. I may have been looking forward to a meal for hours. Someone has taken time to prepare it. And almost as soon as it’s laid on the table, it’s gone. The moment passes. I barely notice. So I reach for more.
This morning I remembered an experience I’d had on several retreats where we waited for everyone to be seated before we started eating. We paused before we ate and we appreciated the care others had given to preparing the meal. We took time to appreciate each bite. We ate slowly in silence together for the first 10 minutes.
I tried to be mindful as I put the kettle on. I poured cereal in a bowl slowly and added milk. Because it was early, I was on my own.
I took a few breaths and relaxed before I ate. I noticed how my mind was racing ahead to all the jobs that had to be done. I kept bringing my attention back to the present.
The bowl of cereal looked nourishing. For a moment I allowed my awareness to travel back to a time when these oats were tiny seeds in the earth, drenched by rain and warmed by the sun.
I thought about how they had been minded and harvested by a farmer when they ripened; how they had been transported, packaged and passed through many hands so that I could hold this bowl of nourishment in my hands.
Feeling connected in this way, I naturally slowed down and tasted my cereal as if for the first time.
What nourishes us is often more than the food we eat. Whenever we share a meal, we are nourished by the break we take from our daily chores to be together.
In the company of others, we are taken out of ourselves. We catch ourselves becoming preoccupied, let go of our worries, and take comfort in the easy flow of conversation around the table.
How we eat reflects how we live. Our hurrying through life is reflected in the way we blast through our meals. Our tendency to look for love in the wrong places shows up on our plates in over or under-eating.
We all need comfort and companionship. When we slow down and relax, we can become aware of food as a gift rather than a crutch. We enjoy the other nourishing elements of our eating, such as being with someone else, tasting something we’ve never tried before, appreciating a simple homemade soup and laughing as we swap stories.
The best way to make mindfulness part of our lives is to pay attention to our most basic everyday activities.
By eating with awareness we learn to live in awareness. When we change how we eat, we change the way we live.
Tony Bates is the founding director of Headstrong – The National Centre for Youth Mental Health