Meals with Mindfulness
By Erin Stohl
In the hustle and bustle of daily life, meal times can easily become rushed and stressful. Whether we are quickly eating our breakfast in the car on the way to work, or eating dinner while talking on the phone and/or watching TV, it’s common to see meals as something to fit into our full schedules, instead of making them a priority. Although it can be easy to hurry through meals or to eat while multi-tasking, let’s consider the benefits of slowing down and creating mindful mealtimes.
First, slowing down and fully chewing our food supports healthy digestion. Since saliva contains enzymes that help us to properly break down food, chewing sufficiently is an important first step in the digestive process. Additionally, chewing helps to break food down into smaller particles, which allows nutrients to be extracted during digestion. Chewing also relaxes the lower stomach muscle, which supports the movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine. By bringing awareness to our chewing, we are more likely to slow down and chew our food well enough to support optimal digestion.
Another benefit of creating mindful mealtimes is that it helps to support a balanced nervous system. When we eat while distracted or multi-tasking, our bodies may be in a more tense state. Eating while tense contributes to the persistent hum of stress in the body and mind that has become commonplace for many of us. However, when we are able to minimize distractions and focus on the food we are taking in, this sends a message to our body that we can relax, which improves digestion and supports peace of mind.
Here are some other quick tips for mindful meals:
Pause. Put down your fork or spoon and pause in between bites. This helps to shift the pattern of taking another bite of food while there is still food in your mouth from the previous bite.
– Breathe. Taking a few breaths in between bites helps to increase mindfulness and slow down eating.
– Timing. Set a pleasant sounding timer on your phone to go off every few minutes while eating. Each time you hear the sound of the timer, bring your awareness back to your meal.
– Reduce. Use a smaller fork or spoon to decrease the amount of food in each bite.
– Unplug. Turn off cell phones and other electronics while eating to avoid the distraction of scrolling through Facebook and other social media sites, responding to emails and text messages, and searching the internet.
– Plan. Set aside a specific time for meals. This helps to make space for mindful eating instead of needing to squeeze meals in between or during other activities.
– Connect. When possible, plan to share meals with loved ones. Eating with others supports a sense of connection and togetherness that is a core need for all of us. When we feel connected to others, we feel healthier, happier, and more alive.
– Stretch. Set a goal to create longer meal times. Set a timer to figure out how long it typically takes to finish a meal. Then set a goal to slow down your eating so that your next meal takes a few minutes longer to finish. When you’ve become more accustomed to the new slower mealtime, try to stretch it out by a few more minutes. Keep stretching until mealtime feels spacious and relaxing. For example, this might look like taking 5 minutes to eat a meal, to then taking 7 minutes, to then taking 10 minutes, etc.
If you decide to experiment with more mindful meals, remember to be patient with yourself. We develop our eating habits as children and it takes time to create new patterns. The great thing about mindful eating is that whenever we slip back into old patterned behaviors, we can bring our attention to the present moment and make a different choice. Specifically, by slowing down chewing, minimizing distractions, and experimenting with other different mindfulness practices during mealtimes, we can support digestive health and overall wellness.