You may have already seen 23 Photos of People From All Over The World Next To How Much Food They Eat Per Day by photographers Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio, or heard the NPR story about those photos in their new book What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets. It’s quite an interesting look at different global caloric intakes, meal compositions, and the effects of those diets.

Here in America, where anything a person craves is available at any moment, it is easy to lose track of what we eat in a day. How often do we simply consume without consideration? Without real hunger? Without wondering how that food got from the ground to our mouths? And is it important to consider such a thing? The answer is yes!

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This consideration — this awareness of food and being present in one’s consuming of it — is a practice known as Mindful Eating. Mindful eating has its roots in Buddism, though experts at the Harvard School Of Health, Oprah Winfrey, and the Google campus have recently begun to delve into the principles. It’s a form of meditation and promoting awareness. It’s not a diet, but rather a way of connecting to one’s food.

So just how do you practice mindful eating? Here are some ways to start being conscious and mindful of your food:

1. Start Small

Set a small goal of being mindful of one meal per week. Slowly work your way up to daily meals, and before long, you’ll have mastered conscious eating with all your meals! Try not to judge yourself. Mindful eating isn’t about what you eat; it isn’t a diet. So even if what you are eating is a calorie-stuffed, fat loaded confection, you can still be mindful and reap the benefits of doing so. Take small steps of awareness and enjoy the process.

2. Just Eat

Turn off the TV, the phone, the computer. Put down the newspaper, the book, or today’s mail. Give up the multitasking, sit down at a table with your food, and just eat it, without interference or distraction.

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3. Go Silent

Take a few minutes before eating to just sit silently with your food. Take a big deep cleansing breath. Notice how your meal looks, how it smells. What is your body’s reaction to it? Is your stomach rumbling? Are you salivating? After a few minutes, keeping silent, take a bite, and use all your senses to experience the sensation.

4. Grow and Make

Nothing increases appreciation for something like investing hard work into its creation. Food is no different. It’s pretty hard not to be conscious of your food when you grow it yourself. And getting in touch with the soil, the growing and harvesting processes, as well as the meal prep is a surefire way to connect!

5. Beautify

Take the time and effort to make your meals beautiful. Set the table fully, use dishes and flatware that you love, light candles, and make mealtime an event. Sprinkle fresh herbs over entrees or fresh fruit on desserts. Appreciate and make your food as lovely as possible, even if it is simply taking the potato chips out of the bag and arranging them prettily on a plate. Making meals a priority, food a blessing, and practicing gratitude will go a long way toward health and happiness in your life.

6. Slow Down

It may be momentarily satisfying to scarf down that delicious pasta when you’re hungry, but try to slow down. Research shows that it takes some time for the brain to react to digestive juices in the gut signaling that it’s full, so pacing yourself while eating gives your body the necessary time to communicate its needs. If you have difficulty holding off, give mastication a try. Chinese researchers discovered that people who chewed each bite of food 40 times consumed 12 percent less calories than those who chewed each bite less. Additionally, those who chewed each bite thoroughly experienced lower levels of ghrelin, a hormone produced in the stomach that triggers the brain to recognize fullness. You can also slow down your meal by putting your fork down as you work those 40 chews, and then taking a sip of water between bites.

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7. Check-In

Before you open the fridge, ask yourself, “am I really hungry right now?”  Rate your hunger on a scale from 1 – 10. Are you so hungry that you could eat anything…literally anything, like some plain ole’ kale leaves, or are you only jonesing for that bag of potato chips? Learn to distinguish between true hunger (hint…the kale will sound delicious) and munchies. Are you eating to distract yourself from some task you’re avoiding or because you’re bored or upset? Set a timer and give yourself some time to really analyze your feelings, both physical and emotional.

Warning: Mindfulness can spread, so if you master mindful eating, be prepared for that consciousness to manifest in other areas in your life.

Bon Appetite!

We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 8,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!

Lead image source: Alex/Flickr

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