When I was a cherry picker in New Zealand, I worked and lived with people from seven different countries: Italy, Argentina, Canada, Taiwan, the Czech Republic, and Germany. At the end of each day, we would prepare our dinner and eat as the sun set behind the orchard. There was something that stuck out to me specifically about the Argentinians. They ate late, but they ate together as a big group and took their time as they laughed and conversed about the day. This was very similar to my time in Italy where dinners seemed to last for hours as you’d get lost in conversation over multiple, slow courses of food.
The reality is in the US most of us rush through our meals and likely eat many of our meals alone. I know I do. Rushed to get to the next thing, hardly acknowledging the food that’s going into our mouth, and the effects of this are greater than missing out on enjoying our meals. It can affect digestion, make us overeat, and the list goes on. When we slow down and enjoy our meal, our parasympathetic nervous system is activated and we are able to properly digest our food.
A great way to slow down and improve your experience with food is to implement mindfulness into your eating, and here are some ways you can do this.
1. Take 10 deep breaths before you start eating.
Or 5 or 3 or 1. It doesn’t really matter, but if you actively stop and allow yourself to arrive at your meal, you will notice that you can pause your day, slow your eating down and enjoy your meal.
2. Set your fork down between bites.
Have you ever noticed how you have your next bite shoveled into your mouth before you’ve had a chance to swallow or even complete chewing the prior bite? It’s as if we have to stuff our face as quickly as possible because someone is about to take our food if we don’t eat it faster. Relax, the boogie man isn’t coming after your food. Pick up your fork only once you’ve swallowed the prior bite.
3. Count 30-50 bites before swallowing.
Chewing is the first part of the digestion process and truly the only one we need to be aware of (amazing how the rest just operates without us having to think about it). Our saliva starts to break down the enzymes of the food we eat. When we slow down and truly chew our food, it’s setting our body up for better digestion down the road and we can actually notice the flavors and textures of the food.
4. Go through all 5 senses while eating.
Take your time with your meal. With each bite focus on a different sense. This can be really fun. Before your first bite, you could smell your food and notice the different scents that arise. You can even notice how the smells have changed throughout the cooking process. Spend time observing your food before it gets shoveled into your mouth. Notice the colors, the shapes and the sizes of each item. As you put the food into your mouth, what flavors do you pick up on? Can you taste the different seasonings? Can you tell the different ingredients that were combined to create this meal? Notice the different textures of the food on your tongue and notice how they change as you chew. Lastly, listen for the sounds of the food as it is consumed. Before you know it, the meal will be over, but you will have a whole different appreciation for it.
5. Eat with people.
If you’re a Chatty Kathy like me, eating with people means more conversation which means taking more time between bites to add to the topic being discussed.
6. Show gratitude.
Similar r to taking a few moments of deep breaths before diving in, if you take a moment before eating to acknowledge the work, people, and effort it took to get the food on your plate, you are surely going to take your time and enjoy that food in a different way than had you just scarfed it down without acknowledging it first.
7. Turn off distractions
Have you ever noticed how hard it is to just sit and eat and give it your single-pointed focus? It’s easy to mindlessly scan your social media, read the newspaper or write a to-do list, but when we do this it takes our attention away from our eating. If we are able to give our full attention to eating, you can hear when your body is actually satisfied which will likely lead to you eat less.