Eat With Your Mind

Slowing down, letting your senses converge, makes each bite an epiphany.

mindful eating

Illustration by Veronica Grech

Behold a raisin. No, seriously. Observe its wizened surface, its earthy color. Inhale its aroma of sugar and dust. Now roll it on your tongue for a more intimate exploration, then slowly chew. Savor its sweet, overripe flavors. Envision its journey from the vine to your hand, a little miracle. 

Congratulations—you’ve just had your first taste, as it were, of mindful eating, the practice of paying careful attention to all the sensations, emotions and thoughts that accompany the consumption of food.  It’s an outgrowth of mindful meditation, which involves calming the mind by focusing on the present, and it appears to convey similar benefits.

“When you’re chewing slowly and being in the moment,” says Catherine Magner, managing director of the Krame Center for Contemplative Studies and Mindful Living at Ramapo College, “you’re allowing your digestive system to do its job, which means you’re likely to experience less bloating and other digestive issues.” 

Given that it can take up to 20 minutes for our brains to get the message that we’ve had enough to eat, mindful eating can deter overeating.  In a culture that encourages eating as entertainment, status seeking, competition and emotional balm, mindfulness may help us separate the extraneous from the essential.  Kinnelon resident Kathy Morelli says the practice has allowed her to identify and avoid emotional eating. “It’s helped me cut back on junk food and improve my diet,” she says.

Focusing solely on the in-the-moment experience of eating (not on texting or the latest episode of This Is Us) amplifies the pleasure and the gratification. “When you’re really savoring, say, a wonderful piece of chocolate,” says Magner, “you’re less likely to feel the need for another.” 

To master mindful eating, suggests Carol Bowman, director of education programs at Krame, start small—a piece of good chocolate or that single raisin—and gradually work up to an entire meal.  

mindful eating

Illustration by Scott Bakal

Begin with a deep breath, then calmly concentrate all your senses on the food before you. Chew slowly. Let your thoughts take you places beyond the table, so long as they relate to the immediate experience of eating. 

“Maybe you’re thinking about the economic relationship between your morning coffee and the people who harvested it in Peru,” Bowman suggests. “Or maybe you’re just grateful to have the privilege of enjoying a cup of coffee in a comfortable atmosphere.”  (If you want to delve deeper into the how-to, an Internet search will yield books, websites and webinars, as well as occasional classes offered by hospitals and extensions.)

While the concept is simple, the practice isn’t always easy. “I try to remember to do it,” says Somerville resident Patti Verbanas. “But dinners with two kids whose schedules vary are rushed affairs, and lunch is working. Eating is when I can fit it in, and it’s often on the fly.” 

Samantha Nazareth, a Hoboken native and gastroenterologist who specializes in wellness eating, agrees we must overcome cultural hurdles, chiefly the notion that “we have to be doing 50 things at once or we’re not being productive.”

Still, like meditation, mindful eating is not about perfection. If your mind jumps from your tuna sandwich to your tax bill, just gently lead it back. You’ll discover the intimate connection between “mmmmm” and “ommmm.” 

Read more Eat & Drink, Health articles.

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