One of the most important ways we can practice inner peace is through the way we eat. If we are lucky enough to eat several times a day, we have numerous opportunities to use eating as a way to bring us to the present moment, to practice gratitude, and realize our deep connection with all of life.
There are many simple ways that we can begin to practice mindful eating. Bite by bite, we can become more aware of the way we eat, the way our food affects us, and the way our food habits affect the outer world. This practice can help us to cultivate inner peace, as well as to become more aware of our decisions that can promote outer peace.
You don’t need to live in a monastery to practice mindful eating. There are many small ways that we can integrate mindful eating practices into our day-to-day lives. You don’t need to try them all at once – maybe just pick one, try it and see what happens. Here are some tips to start:
1. Turn it off! Turn off the TV, computer, radio, or other distractions that will keep you from being fully present.
2. Clear your dinner table of clutter – Put books, papers, and anything that is unnecessary off to the side and create a clean space that will allow you to focus on the food.
3. Make it special – we often save our nice place settings and candles for special celebrations, but every meal is a cause for celebration and gratitude. Using your finer eating implements can help inspire you to be mindful of your food and to savor the experience.
4. Sit – this almost goes without saying, but many of us eat while “on the run,” while driving, or while carrying out other activities. In Niger, one of the most food-insecure countries in the world, the Zarma people call eating while walking “eating with the devil,” and there is a myth that if you eat while walking, something bad could happen to you. Try to make a point of stopping whatever else you are doing. If you really have to eat while on the run, you can at least still be aware that you are doing this.
5. Pause to look deeply – Before you begin to eat, take a moment to look – really look – at your food before you eat it. Notice colors, textures, notice the way the light hits your food. Take a moment before you eat to soak it in through your non-taste senses. Think about where your food came from and everything that had to happen in order for the food to get onto your plate. This practice helps us to see the interconnectedness, or interbeing, of reality and our deep connection with the environment of which we are a part.
6. Express gratitude – Every meal is a cause to give thanks. You can also take a moment to express gratitude, such as through the 5 contemplations or other recitations or prayers.
7. Put your fork down between bites – This is a very small gesture but can have huge impacts on how fast you eat your meal. This simple act will allow you to slow down and focus on the current bite, not reaching forward into the future looking for the next bite, as we often tend to do. The overarching principle of mindful eating is simply “take your time,” and putting down your utencils between bites really helps us to do this.
8. Chew well – Some people suggest chewing each bite of food 20-30 times, which also helps you slow down and helps improve digestion (which begins in the mouth, after all!). One of my yoga teachers used to say, “Chew your liquids, drink your solids,” meaning drink slow enough that you are almost chewing your beverages (rather than chugging or gulping), and chew enough that the food is not solid when you swallow it. Chewing well also gives us a chance to pay attention and really taste the food we are eating. You can even notice how the flavor changes from bite to bite. You can also notice the physiological affects of the food on your body as you consume it. How does your body feel as you absorb and digest the food? Being more aware of the way different food affects our body can help us to make better choices for our health and well-being.
9. Use chopsticks or a smaller utensil – This is another way to help us slow down and take smaller bites. Slowing our pace down also helps us to become aware when we are about 2/3 full, which is the optimal level of fullness for health and digestion. Using a smaller spoon, for example, forces us to take smaller bites and will helps us to learn to savor each one. This helps us to practice moderation and simply taking what we need rather than more.
10. Practice silence – While this might not be practical at all times, when you can, try to eat a meal in silence from beginning to end. This can be a profound experience, especially when practiced with family or community. After the meal you can share your reflections, both on the food and the experience.
Try to approach mindful eating with curiosity and enjoyment, rather than with obligation. These practices should be enjoyable and not something you feel like you have to do. We are often used to rushing through meals, so the practice of mindful eating can seem strange at first. Over time, as we practice, it allows us to connect with the present moment, bite by bite.
These are just some ideas to start. We would love to hear your ideas!
What are some ways that you practice mindful eating?