Bringing Mindfulness to Meals: In the Real World

Mindfulness, the ancient practice of being present and connected to the here and now, is fast becoming a modern way of decompressing from the stresses and strains of everyday life.

But practicing mindfulness, is still for many, something that can appear too daunting. This is in part because when the media talk about mindfulness, they use images of peaceful people, sitting cross legged in impossibly beautiful surroundings, seemingly with completely empty minds. If you’ve tried to practice mindfulness, then you may have been put off by the thought that your mind wasn’t meant to be wandering.

However, the truth is, mindfulness doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to absolve your mind of all thoughts. Whilst a Buddhist monk who’d been practicing for a lifetime might be able to achieve this, on an everyday level, that’s not the purpose of this practice.

Mindfulness means being aware of what’s going on around you or inside your own body (which is why it’s so intrinsically connected to your breath). In fact, it can be applied anywhere, such as walking through a country park or urban landscape, fully noticing the greenery and architecture.

It can also be applied to mealtimes, and mindful eating is very beneficial for being more in control of what you eat and more connected to the food that you’re eating.

What is a Mindful Mealtime?

A mindful mealtime begins with the preparation and cooking. Even if you’re making a sandwich or heating a bowl of soup from a tin, carry out each step mindfully, from shopping to opening packaging with all of your senses, to plating up your meal in an inviting way. If you’re cooking from scratch, chop each ingredient with focus, with attention fully the task at hand, the sounds, sensations and smells. Consider the journey a simple vegetable took to reach your plate, and how can be transformed through peeling, chopping, frying or boiling, how it changes colour and complements and contrasts with flavours of everything else.

When it comes to eating, minimize distractions. Turn off the TV or radio, put down your smartphone and any reading material and ask any dining companions to do the same. Look at each forkful of food before it goes into your mouth or before each bite. Consider its colour, temperature and texture. Then, when it’s in your mouth, think about not just the taste, but how it feels and the texture. Is it soft, hard, rough or smooth?

Hold the food in your mouth for a few more chews than you would normally, and as you swallow, mentally follow its path down into your stomach. Don’t be tempted to get the next mouthful ready as you chew. Put your cutlery down and close your eyes. How does the food feel as it reaches your stomach? How will its nutrients nourish your body? How do you feel afterwards? Are you pleasantly satisfied? Still craving more, or are you feeling bloated and uncomfortable?

The Benefits of Mindful Eating

Preparing food and eating mindfully can benefit us in many ways. It can help us with portion control, if we’ve perhaps eaten too much, or too little, in the past. Mindful eating also helps us feel more connected to our food – where it comes from, how it’s made and how well it supports our health. Knowing the connection between our diet and our food can help us to make more healthy choices when it comes to what we eat, too. We can consciously avoid creating food waste too, by carefully planning meals and making thoughtfully balanced portions.

Mindful eating isn’t necessarily about losing weight, rather it's a lifestyle but it may help if that’s what you’d like to do. It’ll certainly make you feel more energised and fuller for longer if you have a healthier relationship with food.

So at your next meal, try being more mindful and see how it can benefit you.

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