By Leo Babauta
This week, we’ll be focusing on expanding what we learned in sitting meditation to eating.
So continue your sitting meditation (or start today if you haven’t yet), but add one mindful eating session each day.
How should the mindful eating session work? We’ll get into that in a moment — first, let’s talk a little about why we should even attempt mindful eating.
Why Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is simply extending the practice of focusing attention and awareness, from the sitting practice, to the activity of eating.
But I’ve found eating to be a very interesting type of meditation, simply because of the mental and emotional habits we’ve built up around eating since we were kids.
Because we’ve been eating so long, and because eating was associated with love and comfort and pleasure and motherly love and friends … eating habits are among the most complicated. They come with a host of different habits that are attached to them, such as:
- Eating because of stress, anger, sadness, fear, the need for comfort, etc.
- Addictions to sweets, salt, fried foods, etc.
- Social eating habits (drinking with buddies, eating lunch with clients, pizza parties, eating certain kinds of meals with family, birthday parties, etc.).
- Eating convenience food or ordering in because we’re tired at the end of the day.
- Eating at certain times of the day, not because we’re hungry, but out of habit.
- Watching TV or reading while we eat, instead of paying attention to the food or our hunger.
- Cleaning our plate (or the bucket of popcorn, etc.).
- Drinking grande lattes because we need the pick-me-up.
And so on.
These are habits that we’re usually not very aware of. Mindfulness helps us to see our thinking and emotional habits, including around eating.
Mindful eating, in addition, is a great way to really savor your food. It’s a great way to learn to eat until you’re sated, instead of overfull. It’s a great way to expand mindfulness to another part of your life.
Let’s look at how to do it.
The Mindful Eating Session
So we’re going to do mindful eating one meal per day. So pick a meal where you think you’ll be able to eat for at least 5 minutes without talking, watching TV, going on your phone. It can be breakfast, if that works best for you. Or lunch or dinner. It can even be a regular snack you normally have each afternoon.
During this meal, I suggest you practice mindfulness for just 5 minutes in the beginning of the meal. You can do it for the entire meal if you like, but that’s not required. Doing it for just 5 minutes is success for that day.
So what do you do during your 5 minutes of mindful eating? Here’s the practice:
- Set aside all distractions. No TV, no laptops or other computers, no phones or tablets, no Kindles or books. Just the food.
- No talking for 5 minutes. If there are others who eat with you, ask them not to talk to you during this time. In fact, ask them to join you. Often it’s easier, though, to eat alone as you practice mindful eating, if others don’t want to do it with you.
- As you take your first bite, notice the sensations of the food. The texture, the smell, the various tastes. Savor the bite. Chew it slowly, so you can really notice the food.
- When your mind wanders from the sensations of the food, notice this wandering. Come back to the food, just like you come back to your breath in sitting meditation.
- Notice how you feel as you eat. How does your body feel? Do you feel comfort, discomfort, pleasure?
- Pause between bites, instead of shoveling the next bite into your mouth (which is something I often do). Breathe. Focus your attention on your breath for a couple breaths, before picking up your fork again.
- Repeat this with each bite. You don’t have to do each step with each bite, but these are some of the things to notice as you eat.
If you practice mindful eating for the entire meal (which isn’t required), try noticing your fullness level. Try stopping eating before you’re really full, and waiting for a few minutes. See what it’s like to play with the edge between hunger and fullness.
Does it matter what you eat? Not really. You can eat what you normally eat, though if you eat things that aren’t healthy, see how that makes you feel. Does it make you feel bloated, greasy? If you eat healthy things, notice how that makes you feel. Mindful eating helps us learn about how food really affects us, and it’s helped me get better at making better food choices over time.
Ultimately, though, this mindful eating session isn’t about healthy vs. unhealthy food. It’s about practicing mindfulness, in a simple setting. Gradually, we can expand this mindfulness practice to other activities, including walking and talking and working. But start with sitting meditation, and mindful eating.
You’ll practice mindful eating during the rest of the month, along with sitting meditation. We’ll add another mindfulness session in Week 3, and then a fourth one in Week 4.