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That First Bite

“I’m on a see-food diet. I see food, and I eat it,” chortled my uncle as we passed the seemingly hundredth fast food restaurant stop on the highway.  You’ve probably heard this line, too.  When I often reflect on how I got fat, got thin, and later got healthy, it’s snarky nutrition wisdom such as this that my adolescent brain managed to hang onto through the years. And I used to think it didn’t help much.

single biteBut my uncle, who is one of my favorite human beings walking, was being mindful in his own way. When he ate a cheeseburger, he was 100% engaged in eating that cheeseburger, loving every single minute of it. What he was not so mindful of was the reason he was eating a cheeseburger– true hunger often took a backseat to a pleasant sensory experience. My uncle is not a small guy.

I see food every day and eat it too. But I can also smell food, taste food, hear the sounds it makes being eaten, and touch food! I can use my entire sensory experience to fully enjoy whatever is on my plate. And unlike my uncle, I can cleverly use this to my weight-management advantage.

Being 100% attentive to the present moment’s experience is known as mindfulness, and when we apply it to eating (or anything else), we can both thoroughly enjoy our food and be best served by our food.  

When applied to the mealtime experience, mindful eating has become a popular tool for weight loss, both in the public and in the annals of nutrition research, due to the simple sanctity of letting ourselves fully eat when we eat.

In my own life and in those of my patients, profound benefits emerge from the practice of eating more mindfully– less gas/bloating/heartburn, reduced anxiety, a nourishing relationship with food, healthier eating habits, more satisfaction with the flavor of food and the eating experience, and, of course, weight loss!  In a recent review of mindful eating literature from the Journal Obesity Review, 9 out of 10 studies of mindfulness-based interventions to improve eating habits reported either weight loss or weight maintenance, despite their diverse types of mindfulness interventions– some studies focused on eating, some on acceptance-based therapy, and others combined mindfulness meditation with cognitive behavioral therapy. The literature is beginning to reinforce what meditators have known for generations– awareness of our behaviors is the first step to meaningful change. This is great news for people who eat.

This means that every bite, every day, is an opportunity for free stress management. Awesome! And unlike medications, we need food to live. The opportunity will always be there.  

Sounds easy, right?  Of course it does. But let’s be honest– easy things are hard. I struggle to eat mindfully every day, and it is completely worth it.  So let me give you the benefit of my experience on how to start eating mindfully with the greatest possible ease. If you have a big problem, break it down into small easy pieces.  That means stop focusing on the meal and focus on each bite– each moment of the meal– as a separate experience.

For now, commit to consuming the first five bites of your meal mindfully you can always give yourself more time to eat an entire meal in this manner as you become more attuned to your body and your pace. Here are the steps:

  • Prepare a single bite of food.
  • Pause of a full breath before you eat to see, hear, and smell the food in front of you.  

    (If it is part of your personal spiritual practice, give the appropriate reverence to the life that ended to further yours.).

  • Place the food in our mouth and begin to chew slowly. Clear your hands.  
    Notice how the flavors and textures change. Use all of your senses.
  • When food is chewed to the point of being liquefied, swallow.
  • Pause for a full breath.

What do you experience eating in this way?

How do you experience foods that are familiar to you?  BrownRice? Spinach? An apple?  

Join the conversation below!


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