This post discusses a personal practice that you can adopt to reacquaint yourself with the wonders and sensation of eating. It’s offered as one of several techniques to the Karma Sense Eating Plan’s mantra of Eat Slowly and Stop Before You’re Full. Note that KSEP does not require that you adopt a mindful eating process to take advantage of its benefits. The post that pertains to the “Eat Slowly…” mantra offers other techniques. Also, a mindful eating practice can stand on its own. You can become a mindful eater without anyone accusing you of being part of that weird Karma Sense Eating clique that thinks they’re so cool because they are healthy and saving the world. So without further ado…
Mindful Eating Preparation
- Be sure there are no distractions (i.e. No TV, no reading, etc.). Dining companions are fine. This practice can be done individually, as a group, or individually within a group. If you’re in a group and you are the only one practicing, let the rest know. Many people can handle the progression of this practice while carrying on polite conversation at the same time. Others prefer not to. It’s up to you. Do what works best.
- If you are doing this as a group, it is often more meaningful if it’s done over a meal that the group has some shared affinity over. For example a family who has a traditional meal or a group of friends at a favorite restaurant.
- Your practice will begin when you are seated, and your meal is placed in front of you. From that point forward, progress through the following sequence. Feel free to skip any steps that make you uncomfortable. Enjoy the experience.
Mindful Eating Progression
- Make sure you are in a comfortable position.
- Take a deep breath in and out and just accept whatever happens in that moment. Don’t worry about your other senses at this time. If you smell something don’t try to process what it is. Just let it be.
- Notice how you feel right now. Are you hungry? Is your stomach grumbling? How does the inside of your mouth feel? What is your general mood? Remember these feelings as we continue through the mindful eating process. You’ll be asked to check in on these feelings again.
- Move your nose as close as comfortably possible to your meal, close your eyes if you like and take another breath to appreciate the aroma of what you are about to eat. Do any smells in particular stand out? Can you anticipate how the meal will taste? Are there spices or other ingredients that you easily recognize? Do you notice if the environment in your mouth is changing any? Is it getting dryer? Are you salivating? If this is something you’ve eaten before, is there any difference in the aroma from your previous experience? When you’re ready, move to the next step.
- Examine your meal with your eyes and try to filter out your other senses. Notice the colors. Are you able to distinguish individual ingredients? Name them to yourself if that helps. If this is something you’ve eaten before is there any difference in appearance from your previous experience?
- Some food makes noise. Is your meal sizzling? Does it snap, crackle and/or pop?
- Is this the kind of food that you can politely touch or hold such as something you could eat with your hand? How does it feel? Is it hot or cold? Is it smooth or does it have more texture? Does it leave any moisture or residue on your fingers?
- Take another deep breath with an aim to take in the aroma of the meal once again. Even though no food has entered your mouth, you are already tasting what you are about to eat. While a great deal of flavor perception comes from the sense of taste, the sense of smell makes a huge contribution to your perception of flavor. This is why food tastes differently when your respiratory tract is congested.
- We’ll now transition to tasting the food but not at the expense of using your other senses. Prepare to take your first bite but make it slightly smaller than what you usual take. You’re going to experience it for a longer time than you usually do and that may be challenging if you take too large a bite.
- Place the food in your mouth and move it around with your tongue before starting to chew. See if you can have it make contact with your inner cheeks as well as the top, sides, and underneath your tongue. Can you taste the individual flavors that your taste buds support? Can you distinguish the salty from the sweet? The bitter from the sour? Can you taste umami, the fifth flavor that is also known as “meaty” or “savory”?
- How does the food feel in your mouth?
- Does the food smell any differently? Can you distinguish between that part of the flavor that comes from your sense of taste and how much comes from your sense of smell?
- Meanwhile, your saliva contains enzymes that begin the breakdown of complex carbohydrates into simpler sugars. This will make the taste of your food change as you process it in your mouth.
- Begin chewing and try to chew the food for as long as possible swallowing. Notice the changes in flavor and the changes in texture. Notice how you use different teeth to chew depending on the consistency of the food. Keep chewing. Already, before you take your first swallow, your stomach begins to mobilize for digestion. Enzymes, bile, and other assistants to digestion are secreted where necessary.
- When you finally need to swallow, go ahead. Pause before you take another bite. It takes less than ten seconds for the bolus (what the mass of food is called after it’s swallowed) to reach the stomach. Wait about 30 seconds. In step 3 you were asked to note how you feel. Whether you were hungry? If your stomach was grumbling? How the inside of your mouth felt? What your general mood was? How have these feelings changed?
- Repeat steps 1-15 two more times. Each time, note if there are any differences in the feel, smell, or taste of what you’ve eaten.
- After 3 complete cycles, continue eating using smaller bites than usual but without worrying about all the distinct steps. Try to pay attention to all of your senses at once. Most importantly, try to eat slower than you usually do and stay tuned to your hunger cues and your mood. Also note if the food tastes any differently from when you started. Pause your eating when you’re no longer hungry. Wait 5 minutes and as time progresses notice if your feeling of hunger changes any or if your mood changes.
- If at the end of 5 minutes you find you’re still hungry, try eating a little more (5 bites or so) and pause again. Continue with that cycle until you aren’t hungry. Do not continue until you’re full. You simply want to be satisfied.
- Note how you feel fifteen minutes after you’ve eaten. Do the same 1 hour, 2 hours, and 3 hours afterwards.
This mindful eating progression is not something you need to do every time you eat for all time. It is a good thing to do with several different meals depending on time of day, setting, alone or with others, home-cooked, at a restaurant, or carry out. When you’re done with this experience, you may want to take notes of whatever is on your mind. Consider following this progression regularly and continue to take notes and examine any differences. Finally, you don’t need to progress through the entire sequence with military precision. Just try the steps that appeal to you. But if you want some crazy fun, live life on the edge and do some of the weird stuff too.