Life continually presents us with opportunities to apply mindfulness to our many activities. One particularly fun activity to apply mindfulness to is eating. It’s something you can easily try by yourself at your next meal, and even with friends or family. If you have kids, it’s a great one to try with them.
One way to think of mindful eating is to imagine that you are a scientist examining your food for the first time. Give your full attention to the whole experience, from observing the appearance and presentation of food to eating it carefully to fully experience its various flavors. If you do this, you may find that a common meal becomes a richer experience.
Here’s how to try the exercise. You can use a raisin, a piece of chocolate, or even an entire meal as your object for mindful eating.
- Start by looking at what you are planning to eat. What do you notice visually?
- Now, smell the food carefully. What do you notice?
- If applicable, do you notice any sounds? If you’re eating something like a raisin, try holding it close to your ear as you squeeze it gently. Or if you’re unwrapping a chocolate, listen to the crinkles of the wrapper as you unfold it.
- What do you feel with your fingers? Is the food warm or cold? Is it smooth, rough, or sticky?
- Now, put the piece of food on your tongue, but don’t chew on it yet. Just leave it on your tongue and notice how it feels in your mouth. Do you taste anything yet? What activity do you notice in your mouth?
- Start chewing it, very slowly, just one bite at a time. Notice how the tastes change as you chew.
- Try to notice when you swallow, and see how far you can feel the food into your body.
The beautiful thing is that by applying this idea of eating mindfully, you can learn to be more present while you eat. In this way, we become more aware of our reactions to food and eating, as well as our habits around meal time. Also, eating mindfully doesn’t have to mean eating slowly. As you know what to pay attention to, you can eat at any speed.
You may end up enjoying food that you like even more while becoming more tolerant of food that you may not like as much. In some cases, you may learn to appreciate flavors you previously discounted. In other cases, you might identify new flavors that you enjoy. And, you may also find that by adding a little more space between stimulus and response, you can decrease the emotional intensity of eating food you dislike.
If you’d like to learn more about how to teach mindful eating to children or adolescents, whether at home, at school, or in private practice, please check out our Mindful Educator Essentials course for teaching mindfulness to youth.