In this last installment of How to Meditate, I will turn to food.
Mindfulness about food leads to facing up to many huge truths about ourselves. Some feel overwhelmingly scary and unsurmountable. But I believe that when we truly allow ourselves to wake up to our food, then we wake up to our lives. We can learn new ways of being, such as trusting ourselves, caring and looking after ourselves and wanting the best for us. I believe that our food choices, and how we eat reflect who we think we are and what we think we deserve in this life.
I say that we can be brave, and put down our forks and allow our fears to come to us. We can sit with wide eyed awareness and greet all these fears head on. I think we are much more capable than we think we are, if only we’d give ourselves the chance.
Let’s start slow and wake up to ourselves and our life, one meal at a time.
There are three parts to Mindful Eating:
1: Mindful of Food Choices
2: Mindful of Food Culture
3: The Art of Mindful Eating
MINDFUL OF FOOD CHOICES
This is about bringing awareness to the food you choose to eat daily, and letting yourself ask about your food’s story. That is, where your food comes from and how it got to you. Where it was grown, how it was grown and who grew it. Other points to be curious about include how (if the food is pre-made) it was created, where and in what way. I like to imagine the landscape my food came from, the faces of the people who grew it. I want to know how it travelled to me, and who was involved in its journey. When the food is on my plate, I want to feel grateful. This precious food, has been grown for me, and I feel humbled with deep appreciation. I don’t eat meat, but I believe if people eat meat then an epic reverence should be laid down at the feet of those who had their lives taken away to be consumed as a quick snack. I think meat, dairy, fish and egg eaters need a deep connection to their food even more so that plant eaters.
Mindful eating begins way before food reaches our lips. Mindfulness with food comes when we choose foods that we are going to eat. If we don’t care about our food, where it came from or how it was grown, then what does that say about our relationship to our self? To choose good quality food, grown healthily in good soil, in a careful, ecologically balanced way means that we are saying to ourselves that we deserve high quality food. It’s about investing in a connection between soil and self. A lack of care over our food choices is an epidemic in most Westernized countries in the last decade. Obesity levels are raising and food is no longer enjoyment, but punishment. Punishment to our bodies and our Earth.
When we have chosen our foods and we have prepared it to eat, and prepared ourselves to receive that food, we could then ask; ‘Why have I chosen this food? Will I truly, honestly, enjoy it? How will I feel after I eat it?”
These mindful questions are the opposite of running away. They allow us to dive right in to our story of self – who we believe we are, reflected in our food choices. If we wake up to why we are eating a certain something, in a certain way, it’s very hard to carry on with denial. We might face up to the fact that we are lonely, we are sad, we are unfulfilled or feel our lives are pointless. These are big stories. Food choices can reflect these themes in our lives.
Food is just a convenient balm to what ails us, and we know, deep down, that no matter what we choose to eat or how we choose to eat it, what ails us will still persist. I’ll get to that matter in a moment, but first we move onto the society around us.
MINDFUL OF FOOD CULTURE
The culture that surrounds us, no matter where we are in the world will let us know, in different ways, what is and what is not acceptable about our eating.
I think there are many micro-cultures within larger landscapes. So that, for example towns in one region will have different attitudes to food than other regions within the same land.
Food culture also includes food promotion, marketing and advertising and I believe we need to be mindful of all the tales we are told.
A super wake up needs to happen across many parts of the world. A large ice bucket poured over docile, lumbering, consumers.
France will allow foie-gras, America will allow super sizes, Britain allows sweet snacks, Germany allows large portions; and on and on it goes.
We don’t have to follow these.
We have to wake up to what we are expected to do.
We have food cultures in our families too. And it is harder to resist these than any other expectations. Perhaps we are allowed to watch TV whilst we eat, perhaps we aren’t allowed to try anything different. Perhaps our partner will laugh at our attempt to eat salad instead of chicken.
It is difficult to be mindful of all these pressures because they feel so heavy on our shoulders. How can we change under the weight of these expectations? Won’t change feel rebellious, rude, mean, unloving?
The question of our own food culture scratches deeper into our self-beliefs once again.
Resisting the cultures of advertising, and pressure from family or society requires us to ask questions not only about ourselves, but our lives. What do we want from our life? Do we want to be meek, or do we want to stand up for ourselves against sugar marketing and peer pressures?
Change is difficult because it causes ripples. I think we can all learn to live with some ripples in our life. Even some waves. As Geneen Roth says “No situation is unworkable.” If you change, you cause tidal changes in those around you. Accept that they will deal with it – and in turn, believe, that so will you.
Mindful eating is about developing positive and healthy food habits. An Eating Meditation is about using food as a focus point to bring our minds to settle on.
Let’s get into mindful eating first.
Mindful eating is about eating with pleasure, with no distractions and feeling nourished.
Perhaps we believe that we are treating ourselves with cake and chocolate. We deserve a packet of crisps after our hard day’s work. I think we can be a bit more adult than that. Perhaps we can mindfully choose food and accept all it brings us. “I choose to eat this food, even though it will cause my blood sugar to rise.” “I choose to eat this food now because I am stressed. I want to zone out. I am going to eat it and choose to accept that I will feel sick and stuffed afterwards.”
Now that’s some mindful eating. The opposite of denial. If you know why you are eating something, then choose it fully. From personal experience, I know how difficult it is to eat without distractions. In fact, I am continuously coming back to the practice. Because sometimes, it’s not about the food, it’s about the HOW we eat. In front of the TV, or reading a book or browsing the net. These ways of eating aren’t about being nourished, but about numbing out. And I understand that deeply. Oh to be numbed out! To be awake and aware all day long can be too much. Too much to handle. And I don’t subscribe to being mindful all day long. I think numbing out is something everyone craves in our information, news heavy, image loaded worlds. But let’s choose to numb out instead, and go from there. A little bit less denial every day. Small steps.
Let’s work towards a vision of choosing to numb out in a way that looks after ourselves. That cares for our bodies, that is kind. Like sleep. Or reading a book. Or having a bath. Yes, they are almost cliché now. But how sad, that we don’t allow ourselves a moment of kindness.
Mindful eating really brings our relationship with our life and our self into sharp focus. And it can be scary. To be presented, with no distractions, with the truth of your situation. Between every undistracted mouthful there can be the hollow truth echoing all around you.
Accept that there are better days, and not so great days. When you can, choose to be mindful. Be mindful of turning on the TV, or opening up a browser. Can you face some quiet time to chew? If you have friends of family around you, mindful eating – that is, just eating with no reading or TV – can be so much easier. Eating on your own, is well, lonely. But eating on your own allows you to sense your body better and feel true satiety. Eating in a family situation can get a bit hectic. So choose different times to tune into your body and your eating.
A good way of getting better at mindful eating is to practice meditation when you can, and also to give Eating Meditations a go.
HOW TO DO AN EATING MEDITATION.
Choose an easy small meal as your meditation. Or a part of a larger meal. Breakfast is a great meal to eat for a meditation, otherwise a small healthy snack for afternoon can be a good focus point too. Aim to take 10, 15 or 20 minutes. Start small.
For an eating meditation you may want to set a timer, or you may decide to let your meal size or your stomach being full to alert you that the meditation has come to an end.
Sit at a table, and for this meditation; eat alone.
Before eating or touching a utensil, look at the food. Look closely. Become aware of different colours and shades and tones. Open your eyes to different textures.
Let the aroma of the food come to you.
Become mindful of any fears or worries you may have at this point, and remember to always to be kindly assertive to yourself. Let yourself know that everything will be okay, and then come back to the food.
Slow down everything. Let time stand still.
Become aware of eagerness or excitable anticipation at for the first bite.
Bring food onto your fork or spoon – fingers also acceptable, which allows you to bring another sense into your meditation.
Close your eyes. For the rest of the meditation, keep your eyes closed. Now send your awareness deep into your mouth. Let the food rest on your tongue. Feel the weight and volume. See what flavours are touching your taste buds.
Start to chew, move as if in slow motion. Become hyper aware of the food in your mouth and all the different textures you can feel all at once.
As you chew slowly, feel the textures changing. Feel saliva pool in your mouth and note the impulse to swallow. Become aware of the act of swallowing.
How much can you change the texture of the food? Aim to chew so that the food is a soft puree. After you have swallowed. Take a moment. Can you feel the food in your tummy? Can you bring to light any sensations your feeling in your digestive tract? Pause to allow thoughts of the food being digested to come to your mind.
Now for the next mouthful. Slow down again. Become aware of any desire to rush. Move away from judgement to presence.
And continue to be delightfully curious for each mouthful. Stay awake for each flavour, each taste experience.
Allow yourself to feel satiated. It might come quickly. See how you respond to messages of “enough”. Disappointment? Anger? Desire to stuff internal voices? Be curious to how it would feel to listen to ‘enough’. Feel resolute in your ability to cope.
When you have truly finished. Tune in to your belly. Tune in to your empty mouth now. Slowly open your eyes. Look down at the meal. You may see a clean plate, or a surprisingly full plate.
Put the plate to the side.
Breathe! Breathe deep.
The meditation has ended.
Come back to yourself, stand up and move on with your day with self-care and kindness.
You deserve nourishment and care.
Arrange your plate with beautiful food, and creatively decorate your table. Celebrate each meal as a gift to you. You are nourishing yourself, so feel happy about that. Food should be enjoyed, and enjoyment comes easy when we are awake to it.