How many times have you looked down at your plate, seeing only crumbs, and wondering how you were already done with your meal? How often do you eat lunch at your work desk, catching up on work or scrolling the internet, instead of taking your full lunch break? Do you watch TV while eating? Do you eat according to the clock, instead of your body?
All of us have done some level of “unconscious eating,” meaning that we are not paying full attention to our food and using our senses to take in the experience. We distract ourselves, or attempt to multi-task, instead of slowing down. While there are common reasons we do this as humans, what today’s post focuses on is offering an exercise for how to eat more consciously.
This is an exercise I was given in graduate school for acupuncture, to teach us how to slow down and use all of our senses to experience food. Take a raisin or other small piece of food in your hand. First, look at it. Really look at it. Notice the grooves, the indentations, the crests, the changes in color, is there a stem, and so on. Take several seconds or even a minute or two to do that.
Next place the raisin up to your nose and deeply inhale to smell the raisin. What does it smell like? Inhale and keep smelling it for several seconds. Now touch the raisin with your fingers and see what it feels like, taking a few seconds to do so. Place the raisin in your mouth, but don’t chew it yet. Just hold it in your mouth and touch it with your tongue, rolling it around. Can you taste anything even though you haven’t bitten into the raisin? Does it feel different when you touch it with your tongue than it did with your fingers?
After a few seconds, bite into the raisin slowly. Notice how the taste. Keep chewing the raisin slowly, without swallowing. Keep chewing and chewing until the raisin is all but totally dissolved. Finally, when almost nothing is left, swallow.
Now no, I don’t expect you to eat every single bite of your food as fully as that raisin, but I do think we can take that exercise and use it as a reminder to experience our food more fully. I love the entire experience of food, from the grocery shopping or farmer’s markets (I wish I could grow my own items but I have a brown thumb…my husband is making plans for our new backyard though, so we will see if I can reap the benefits of whatever he might do next year!), to food preparation, to cooking, to eating and enjoying with loved ones. It’s all a feast for the senses. But I know not everyone shares my love for everything I mentioned, so let’s just focus on the eating part.
First, make sure you are not distracted. Turn off the TV, step away from the computer, or have the whole family sit down at the table. Then take a few moments to look at your food. Smell it. Give thanks for the food and remember how privileged you are to have food at your table. Then take measured bites of your food, a bit at a time, making sure to thoroughly chew your food, and tasting it. If you find yourself rushing, then place your fork down between bites. This is a tip I was given during a study I participated in many years ago where we were given various dietary interventions, and I’ve found it useful to this day. Counting how many times you are chewing can also be a way to help you slow down and help your digestion. Many people chew their food 3-5 times and then just swallow it down. In theory we are supposed to chew each bite something like 40 times!! But let’s get real, that’s pretty hard for most people to do (try it if you don’t believe me). Aim for 20 and you’ll be in a pretty good place I think. Take baby steps if you need to though. If you are at 5 right now, maybe go to 8 or 10 first, then progress to 20. You can do it!
I hope this helps you to eat just a little more consciously. I’d love to hear how you’re doing in the comments!