Many of us tend to eat too quickly, and often with distractions, hardly paying attention to what we are eating. But eating this way is really quite stressful, which can affect metabolism and even lead to digestive issues.
People often think that digestion begins in the mouth but in fact it all starts in our head with the cephalic phase of digestion. As soon as we see, smell, or even think about food, our bodies prepare for digestion. Just take a moment now to imagine cutting slice of lemon. Did you notice a sensation at the back two points of your tongue as you automatically start to secrete more saliva?
Mindful eating describes eating with awareness and without judgement. It’s a way to connect with your food and your body’s response to it. Eating with full attention means that we are more likely to listen to hunger and fullness cues, and also to enjoy and appreciate our food more. But too often we eat on ‘auto-pilot’ hardly even noticing our food. If we are to build a healthy relationship with food, it helps to take some time to slow down and give eating our full focus.
When running my course for parents, Eat Talk Thrive, I always include a mindful eating exercise to give them this experience. It’s a meditation developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn for the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme. It encourages present moment awareness using the senses to step away from our usual way of eating. It typically uses raisins, but I often use satsumas. You can try any food or drink, at one workshop I ended up using custard creams from the refreshments!
When you have a moment alone, try it for yourself:
Choose your orange and first examine with all your senses
· Look really closely, noticing the irregular patterns on the skin, variations in colour
· Next, feel with your fingers, noticing the texture of the skin, the roughness, the smoothness. Give it a gentle squeeze
· Then bring it to your nose, what does it smells like. Scratch the skin slightly, how is that different?
· Slowly peel your orange and take one segment, as above examine it, hold it to the light, what can you see?
· And as you do this, you might also notice perhaps salivation taking place?
· Place it in front of your lips (but not yet in your mouth) and anticipate eating it, just noticing what that’s like.
· Place the segment on your lips, then put in your mouth and just hold it on your tongue for a moment – don’t bite yet. What is the taste like?
Second, eat the orange segment
· Notice what it feels like to have it there. And then very deliberately biting into it, what is the flavour like, now?
· Which teeth do the biting and the chewing, noticing the movement of your jaw muscles? Perhaps you’re already noticing the urge to swallow it?
· Keep chewing slowly, when you’re ready, very deliberately choosing to swallow it, and noticing what happens in your mouth as you do.
· Just take a moment now to savour the experience, just sit with it.
· Really notice how, even though you’ve finished eating it, that the experience is still there, the taste of it, so you can continue enjoying it even after you’ve swallowed it, rather than rushing on to the next bite.
This can work really well with children; you can focus on the sensory aspects of eating:
Pretend you are an alien who has just landed on earth, you’ve never seen an orange before. We are going to explore this new thing.
· Pick it up, what does it feel like?
· What does it look like?
· What does it sound like?
· What does it smell like?
· Take one bite, what does it taste like?
Or you could focus on connecting them
with the wider world first before eating:
· Pick up your orange and close your eyes. Just imagine that this orange was once growing on tree somewhere. Where was it? What did it look like?
· And you might wonder who picked it, how did it get to you? What was that journey like? How did it get here in your hands?