Mindful Eating: Transcending the Trance of Habit
“Eating connects us. It connects us with the food that we invite into our bodies. It connects us with the earth, plants, animals, and sky from which it is made. It also connects us with each other and, ultimately, connects us to ourselves. Whether we are aware of it or not, at a very primitive and even spiritual level, eating connects us with all that is, all that was, and all that will ever be. Eating is a very big deal when we think about it.”
—from YUM: Plant-Based Recipes for a Gluten-Free Diet
Where Mindfulness Practices Came From
While the origins of mindfulness practices go back thousands of years to the early days of Buddhism, mindfulness techniques have been brought to the mainstream and secularized, most notably by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School with his development of what he called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).
Zinn’s East-meets-West integration of ancient wisdom teachings with practical modern-day health applications made it possible for everyone to benefit from age-old life-enhancing practices, regardless of their spiritual orientation of the world. His initial work focused on using MBSR to help patients who suffered from anxiety, stress, pain, and other illnesses. MBSR and its counterpart MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy) for depression and anxiety have become mainstays in mental health, grounded in the impressive accumulated research studies supporting their effectiveness.
Awakening from the Trance of “Mindless” Living
I like to think of mindfulness as simply the practice of living with intention and being awake, instead of being lost in the trance of “mindless” living. As easy as that may sound because we are habit-driven beings, this task is much more challenging than you might think. However, when we invite ourselves to awaken our senses and to be fully present with the life that is around and within us, something else magical also arises—pleasure and gratitude. And since both pleasure and gratitude contribute to feelings of greater joy and wellbeing, it’s easy to understand why mindfulness practices are so powerful in the treatment of both anxiety and depression.
Since few things that we do are as habit-driven as food preparation and eating practices, you can imagine how mindful eating came to be. You can also appreciate why the trance of mindless eating can become a source of physical and emotional harm for a lot of people, especially given the high-intensity fast-food culture that we are now living in.
Can you envision a world where everything is slowed down and the moments in life are savoured, like a fine wine? Expanding on this, the next time you are about to eat an apple, for example, indulge yourself in going down the rabbit-hole of mindful eating using the mindful eating experiment below.
Invitation for Reflection
How might your life be different if you decide to bring more of this consciousness to your life when you eat, even if in a shorter form than in the below demonstration? What impact might such a shifted paradigm of eating and living more mindfully shift the landscape of your relationships?
Mindful eating is a simple way to change how you feel about yourself, others, your body, and the world. It can be your trusted friend that just might surprise you with feelings of improved mood and happiness. Best of all: It doesn’t even cost a penny! Enjoy!
Mindful Eating Experiment
Invite yourself to reverse the clock as you think about that apple (or peach or…) in your hand that you are about to take a bite from, and enter the world of wonderment as you ponder the following questions:
- Where did this apple come from?
- Who planted the seed and nurtured the soil that the tree grew in? How did caring for the tree contribute to the life of that person? What was their life like?
- How many years had the tree been watered and nourished before this apple came to be?
- Who witnessed the seedling grow into the juvenile and then mature tree, lovingly supporting it with stakes, and pruning it year after year?
- Who was there to enjoy the sweet fragrance of the beautiful blossoms that came and went every year, with some of the blossoms offering nectar for the bees to make honey from, subsequently making the fruiting of the blossoms possible?
- How was it that this apple made it to full fruition when many of its siblings fell to the ground for one of many reasons, aborting their existence before they ever had a chance to reach their prime?
- Who harvested this apple and how did it move from the tree to your hand? How far did it travel, and through what means of handling and transportation? How many people touched or moved this apple, and how much fuel and how many dollars were spent to move this apple? How much of a carbon footprint was left behind in order for this apple to move from seed to fruit to food for you?
- Even before you take your first bite of this apple, can you notice its sweet fragrance and colour and texture, as well as take a moment to feel gratitude for all those whose lives have been touched in order for you to have the privilege of enjoying its deliciousness and to be nourished by the nutrients that it beholds?
- Now, without biting, slowly place your mouth on the skin of this piece of fruit, feeling humbled by the greatness of this gift from the earth and its creatures.
- From this deeply pensive place, notice what it’s like to allow your teeth to break through the skin, releasing the sweet juiciness and crisp flesh of this delightful treasure that is generously offering itself to you to support your life.
- As you chew, do so as slowly as you can, feeling the sensation and experiencing the taste and texture in its fullness, as your own body’s digestive system awakens and begins the cascade of complex processes required to break down, integrate, and absorb the nutrients you require for life itself, while simultaneously separating out the chemicals and products your body needs to expel through the many excretory systems in your body.
- Finally, allow yourself to relish in the lusciousness of gratitude and awe that you have had the opportunity to share in this relationship with this very apple, noticing what arises within you as you do so.