Mindful Eating

This Lent, my partner Nicole and I have (loosely) committed to some different eating practices. Even though we love food in our house, it’s true that we don’t always take the time to savour our meals (there are lots of lunches I spend eating in front of the computer while doing research for Sunday’s sermon, or even less productively checking Facebook on my lunch hour, and there are suppers where we opt to eat while watching a favourite show on Netflix rather than paying attention to each other, or our food). And although we say grace in our household for both lunches and dinners (breakfast is awfully early for me to feel anything other than tired…) it’s not always easy to break myself out of habits that keep me paying attention to things other than what is right in front of me–my wife, my food and drink, my body. So, we’ve decided to slow things down in our household this Lent.  This Lent, we’re aiming to practice Mindful Eating.

Mindful Eating has largely and recently been brought to the attention of Westerners by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian W.Y. Cheung in their book Savorand has had a growing presence in professional dietitians circles through The Center for Mindful Eating. However, mindful eating has been a spiritual practice in many religions, including Christianity, for centuries.

The general notions behind Mindful Eating are to be present to the food we eat before, during, and after our meals; to be present to our bodies before, during, and after our meals; to practice gratitude for the gift of life that has been given in our food and that gives us  life through the act of eating; and to be present to our surroundings, including our other meal companions. Sometimes this means that communities who practice mindful eating together don’t talk during their meal and simply enjoy the company of others in silence, while other times, people are encouraged to talk and share as they feel comfortable, but to be aware of their companions and their interactions with them.

This is a short, introductory video by Thich Nhat Hanh explaining some of the practices of mindful eating: 

I have found my now two weeks of sometimes mindful eating to be truly eye-opening. Nicole and I ate a spinach salad for lunch last week that I was really excited about, until we started to eat. I realized that I had put way too much salad dressing on my salad–that I wanted to taste the flavours of the carrots and the peppers, and I just couldn’t fully savour the textures and tastes of those veggies underneath all that ranch dressing! I also realized that spinach is really, really gross when you eat it slowly, which is something that made me quite sad. Normally, I love spinach, but after a few mouthfuls of slowly chewed spinach that was first chalky, then bitter in my mouth, I longed for the salad dressing that seemed to be stuck to my carrots only. Other things, like soups (blended soups, mostly) I’ve found difficult to eat mindfully because the texture is all the same. It’s been difficult to pay deep attention to each spoonful when it feels a little monotonous after a while.

However, there have also been some really lovely moments, too. Like realizing that barley has the most amazing textures and tastes when I slow down to eat. Appreciating the textures and colours of foods with all my senses–exploring food with my tongue, my fingers, my lips…eating is a sensory experience, and even an erotic one at times. And just simply feeling grateful for even that realization that food is a gift that brings on emotions and memories has been something wonderful to celebrate.

So maybe you’ll want to try your own practice of Mindful Eating? There are lots of resources out there (Savor by Thich Nhat Hanh and The Center for Mindful Eating are just two places to start)–perhaps even just taking a moment to practice this Raisin Meditation with a raisin, a chocolate, or even a cup of tea will start to broaden your awareness of the connections that already exist between you and the rest of Creation, and the Giver of Life that works through each of us.

Blessings on your journey!

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