As published in WestCoast Media, January, 2018
Do you remember the last meal you really enjoyed? Was it memorable enough that you recall the aromas that wafted up from the plate? What tastes and textures were in each bite? How did you feel after you ate? There’s something quite satisfying in paying attention to a meal from start to finish: from the selection and preparation of ingredients, the visual presentation of the dish, and the ease of digestion that comes from a meal well-savored.
A mindful eating experience is a way of slowing down and taking care of your mind and body by taking an ordinary, mundane experience such as eating and turning it into a highlight of your day. Mindful eating slows the preparation and consumption of your meals into a distinctly memorable experience that nourishes your mind, body, and spirit by giving your body more of what it needs and less of what it doesn’t. The key to good digestion and proper absorption of nutrients is slowing down and paying attention to what goes into your body.
There’s nothing else you do a minimum of three times per day that makes a bigger impact on your health than what you put in your mouth. Notice how you feel after you eat to gauge how well your body digests your food. Feeling bright, energized, and mentally alert is a primary goal of a well-balanced life, so if you don’t feel well after you eat, reflect on what you ate, how it was prepared, and how relaxed you were (or not). Eating too fast or being careless about ingredients often leads to indigestion – an uncomfortable feeling of fullness, gas or bloating, and sleepiness after eating.
There are some foods, such as a dense meat-laden meal, that are more difficult to digest than a nutrient-rich plant-based meal. It takes a lot of energy to digest large meals, especially when animal products are involved, and there is very little to no fiber to help it along. The stomach is a pouch only about the size of your two fists together when comfortably full, so a plate of nourishing food larger than two fists is more than a grown person will need in most cases. A plentiful plant-based meal can be larger because it condenses significantly as you chew, digests more easily, and due to essential fiber, your body efficiently removes what it doesn’t need. Feeling sleepy or constipated is not an ideal way to approach work and play, so make nourishment, not fullness, a priority.
Well before the act of taking fork in hand, mindful eating is an exploration of tastes, textures, and gratitude for the sourcing and preparation of the food. Mindful eating starts in the selection of organic ingredients that come as close as possible to the roots of the earth by means of a farmers market, garden co-op, or your local grocery store.
Choose your ingredients carefully by handling them before buying, and sample your produce, if possible, before you take it home. Many produce managers are more than happy to slice a fruit or pinch off an herb for you at the asking. Fragrant herbs, spices, and sauces tantalize your sense of smell before the first bite reaches your mouth.
A truly enjoyable, mindful eating experience is using your senses of sight, smell, taste, temperature, and texture (go ahead and use your fingers!) to explore your food and find enjoyment in eating, rather than just filling up the tank. Whether it’s a simple homemade bowl of soup, or a four-course meal at a 5-star restaurant, don’t miss out on the sensory details.
Once your food is prepared, sit down and take a few breaths to inhale the aroma of the fresh ingredients you selected for your dish. Notice how you relax into the moment. Smelling deeply produces long exhalations similar to a satisfied sigh, which helps to create the best environment for digestion: “the rest and digest” mode of nervous system activity.
So, sit back and take a deep breath as you smell the aroma of your dish, smile, and open your heart in gratitude for your efforts to create a nourishing, delightful meal. Careful preparation and slowing down the process puts you in the right frame of mind to sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labor. May the heart and soul you put into your mindful eating experience nourish you back with joy and good health. Bon appétit!
Kristen Lee Fewel is a freelance writer with a passion for healthy living and positive energy. She is a Reiki Master, yoga teacher, and the owner of Full Circle Yoga & Healing Arts.