Most days, you’re lucky if you manage to eat real food a few times a day. And most of the time, it’s not exactly happening in a calm environment. You’re scarfing down lunch in front of your computer at work, or you’re up from the dinner table 10 times helping your kids eat their own food or get milk or whatever it is that’s the demand of the moment. You feel bloated, and frustrated that you somehow still seem to hold onto that extra weight, even though you aren’t ever really having a meal.
This is so normal for us, as parents. And it’s draining our energy, every day.
Digestion is a multi-part, incredibly slow process. It begins even before you take your first bite. The moment that your nose takes in the smell of the food, your whole body gets ready to take in that nourishment. From there, all the way through tasting, chewing, swallowing, through your entire digestive system and out the other end, takes hours.
When we rush or skip any part of that process - but especially the first part - we rob ourselves of nutrients, and give ourselves gut problems that reverberate throughout all the other systems in our bodies.
Mindful eating is really about slowing down the way you take in your food, so that you (a) enjoy it and (b) set yourself up for great digestion. It’s simply a way of paying attention while you’re eating, to promote both of those things. When you do, you enliven your body’s natural ability to take in nutrients and expel toxins - which means that you feel a whole lot more energized and experience less discomfort in your belly.
Under ideal circumstances, here’s how you would have a mindful meal: you would be in a quiet, tranquil space, with no distractions (especially screens). You’d sit and savor the smells of the meal before you took your first bite, and then savor each bite, chewing thoroughly and feeling all the textures of the food. You’d bring to mind all the different people who made it possible for you to have the food you’re eating, from the clerk at the grocery store to the farmers. And after your last bite, you’d continue to sit for several minutes, allowing your food to digest further, before you got up.
But that just isn’t realistic all of the time (or maybe even more than occasionally) for most of us.
Rather than just giving up on mindful eating entirely, try these three small ways you can eat more mindfully:
Tip #1: Sit down when you eat, without distractions
Even if you can only sit for 1 minute to eat that apple or drink that cup of coffee, do it, and do it without simultaneously looking at a screen. Sitting allows your “rest & digest” system to do its job so much better than when you’re standing. Plus, when you aren’t focused on reading or typing, you’re much more likely to do Tip #2.
Tip #2: Notice what you’re eating when you’re eating it
As you take your first bite, give it a few extra chews. If you can, 10 chews. Really taste it, and feel the texture of it in your mouth (and how that texture changes). After you swallow it, pause for just a moment, before you put the next bite in. Really let each bite be its own experience. Not only does this make the whole eating endeavor more luxurious, you’re giving the first stage of digestion a chance to do its work. The saliva in your mouth is really good at breaking down your food. If you do it there, then it’s easier on the organs that handle the next stages of digestion.
Tip #3: Pause before you begin
Once you’ve sat down with your food in front of you, and made sure there aren’t any screens in your line of vision, pause. Take a breath. Notice the smell of the food. Notice the colors. Just take that one breath to appreciate what’s in front of you, before you begin. Not only does this help out your digestive system by sending the signal that food is about to arrive, it also gives you a moment to really arrive. You’re much more likely to do Tip #2, if you take that simple breath.
Bonus Tip: Eat in silence
To really help yourself and your family get into this, try having a new rule that no one talks for one minute (or two) at the beginning of the meal. This gives everyone a chance to take that first bite, and savor it, without having to simultaneously jump into conversation. Depending on how old your kids are, this could be really easy or not at all possible. Just keep it in your back pocket, for when the time feels right to try it out.
This week, choose one meal where you’re going to try one or more of the tips above. Notice what’s hard about it - this is a new muscle you’re flexing! - and what you enjoy. Let me know how it goes, I’d love to hear!