It’s the start of a new year. And a new decade! Every one seems to be supercharged about making big changes to mark this transition. Including me. (You can check out my Digital Vision Board post if you want to learn more about making plans for BIG change.) But what I’m focusing on here, and in my next five posts, is how small changes can produce profound shifts. With this post, I’m kicking off a 6-part series I’ve titled 6 Little Things. It’s a collection of six simple, yet powerfully transformative practices I’m currently cultivating. And I’m excited to share them with you!
Up first, a daily mindful eating ritual that can change your entire relationship not only to food, but to your whole life. That may sound like an exaggeration, but I promise you it’s not. This mindful eating practice has the potential to touch every part of your life, from your big goals all the way down to the mundane tasks. Because it gets to the essence of your very being. It asks you to take notice of the incredible gift of life you’re receiving with every bite you eat. And when you really notice that, everything you do becomes more meaningful.
What Is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is the practice of bringing your full attention to the act of eating in the present moment. It means noticing the full sensory experience of eating. How your food looks. What it smells like. Its texture, or how it feels in your mouth. The sounds that occur as you’re eating. And, of course, the flavors.
It’s also about taking the time to chew your food completely. Slowing down the process of eating, so your food’s already well into the process of digestion before you even swallow it. This is actually really important for good digestion. In fact, many experts recommend chewing your food 32 times before swallowing. Now, I’m not suggesting you start counting your chews, but when you practice mindful eating, you can tell when your food has been chewed completely. It becomes a mushy consistency that’s easy to swallow. That means it’s going to travel your esophagus effortlessly, and your stomach won’t have to work so hard to break it down.
Mindful eating is one of many ways to practice mindfulness, which is the broader practice of bringing awareness to any present moment without judgment. Mindfulness supports all kinds of incredible benefits, including reduced stress, improved mood, emotional regulation, and so much more. When we eat mindfully, we’re tapping into these rewards. But, mindful eating produces some specific benefits that go above and beyond these as well. (We’ll get to them in a minute).
By eating mindfully, we turn the act of feeding ourselves into a self-care ritual. When we give our full attention to our present-moment experience and chew our food slowly and completely, we send a nurturing message of kindness and patience to ourselves. That in and of itself is a wonderful gift. You can practice mindful eating with these two simple focuses and reap benefits. But, when we add another layer to our mindful eating, the ritual becomes even more transformative.
Mindful Eating Honors the Origins of our Food
Consider these two quotes from today’s eminent teacher of mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh:
Food reveals our connection with the Earth. Each bite contains the life of the sun and the earth…We can see and taste the whole universe in a piece of bread! Contemplating our food for a few seconds before eating, and eating in mindfulness, can bring us much happiness.Thich Nhat Hanh
If you truly get in touch with a piece of carrot, you get in touch with the soil, the rain, the sunshine. You get in touch with Mother Earth and eating in such a way, you feel in touch with true life, your roots…that is meditation. If we chew every morsel of food in that way we become grateful and when you are grateful, you are happy.Thich Nhat Hanh
How often do you reflect on such things when you eat? Have you ever reflected this way when eating? Before reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on mindful eating, I hadn’t. I’d said prayers before meals, giving thanks for my food. But when I started really considering the source of my food in this mindful way, my gratitude took on a whole new level of meaning.
We Are, Literally, What We Eat
Taking the time to contemplate the real and deeply-layered source of my food transformed my relationship to it. Because once I started looking at food in terms of its source, I saw a complex chain extending back from the grocery store to the delivery drivers to the manufacturing plants to the farms. All the people involved in the process of producing my food and making it available to me. (There are so many when you think about it.) And then the plants and animals themselves. The soil, with its whole micro-ecology, and the sunlight.
Everything we eat is truly interconnected in an extraordinary chain of life. And we are part of that chain. We’re all tied together through an intricate and ever-flowing exchange of life energy. This, of course, isn’t news to any of us. We learn about the food chain early-on in school. But what is new – at least for me – is taking the time every day to reflect mindfully on this exquisite truth. To really honor all that life energy that’s been packed into every bite of food I’m taking. And then, to receive that gift of life energy with an intention to use it to the best of my ability, for the best possible purposes.
My Daily Mindful Eating Practice
Every morning, I set aside breakfast as my meal to practice mindful eating. That doesn’t mean I don’t practice mindful eating at other times, but I’m really conscious about breakfast for two reasons. First, I know it’s a time when I can dedicate my focus. The house is quiet and calm in those early hours. I know I can commit at least this one meal to my mindfulness practice. Second, it starts my whole day off on the right foot, with meaningful intention.
I typically prepare a bowl of bran flakes cereal topped with banana slices and blueberries. Occasionally I change it up, but I always make sure whatever I’m eating is simple enough for me to visualize the sources of my food.
Before eating, I take time to bring to mind the whole chain of energy that led to that food sitting in my bowl. It doesn’t take long. Maybe a minute. Such a short investment of time to acknowledge all that work, all that life energy that led up to my little moment of contemplation. And what do I get from it?
Connection & Respect
I see my connection to all those people, going about the business of their lives at whatever point along the chain they contributed. I feel my connection to the animals and the plants. To the microbes that populate the soil. The soil itself, and the sun. In this way, I start my day feeling connected to the world.
I also respect the energy I’m receiving from my food way more than I did before. When I ate mindlessly, with little or no appreciation for where my food came from, or how it came to be on my table, I couldn’t possibly respect its true value. Now, I see it. And it serves to deepen my reverence for everything I will use that energy for as I go about my day.
I set the intention to put this abundance of life energy to the best possible use. And that can mean anything from accomplishing my goals to showing kindness and compassion. It can mean anything that encourages the flow of love and life somewhere in the world, even if that somewhere for that day is my own home.
Then I eat my breakfast with mindful awareness of each bite, noticing the experience with all five of my senses. The whole process becomes a meditation practice, and it takes very little of my time.
The Benefits of Mindful Eating
Starting your own mindful eating practice can transform your life. It can not only change your entire relationship to food, but it can shift your relationship to daily living. It’s been amazing for me to see how this one little thing has created such powerful shifts in my life. Here are a few things I’ve noticed in just the two weeks I’ve been consistently practicing it:
- I enjoy my food much more, because I’m savoring all the different flavors.
- Because I’m eating slowly, I notice when I’m full and don’t overeat.
- I’m eating more whole foods. Not as a self-imposed rule, but because I’m naturally more aware now of the sources of my food. I feel more drawn to ingredients I can visualize in their life-forms.
- I see my food more as a source of energy, as opposed to something to do or a craving to fill. This means I’m choosing healthier foods and eating only when and what my body tells me I need in terms of energy.
- I’m feeling more connected to all life on this planet, which translates to feeling happier and more alive.
- I feel a deep gratitude for my food. This in turn makes me feel more gratitude for life in general.
- Perhaps most life-changing of all, I feel invigorated every morning after my practice of mindful eating to use my energy in a positive, loving, and life-affirming way. To share my life energy with others out of gratitude and respect for the life energy I’ve received.
Mindful Eating Generates Gratitude
When we eat mindlessly, we ignore one of our most basic blessings – the food we eat that gives us life. Taking time to practice mindful eating at least one meal a day invites an attitude of gratitude that branches outward into every other aspect of our life. We start to appreciate other things we’ve been taking for granted. Including ourselves – the miracle of our own existence. We just feel more deeply touched by the wonder of life.
I encourage you to give this simple, yet powerful mindful eating practice a try. Start your day with intentional focus on the life energy you’re consuming at breakfast. Get inspired about the ways in which you want to use that energy for the benefit of yourself, your family, and anyone else you come in contact with. Then, pay attention to any shifts, both subtle and profound, that begin appearing in your mindset, your approach to eating, and the ways you’re showing up for daily life. It may surprise you how something so small can create such a big ripple-effect.
I’d love to hear your feedback. Let me know what you think in my comments section below. And be sure to check back next week for the second installment of my 6 Little Things series. Hint: It’ll take what you know about mantras to a new level. Or, if you know nothing about mantras, it’ll introduce you to them in a fascinating and incredibly practical way.
Many Blessings for a wonder-full week!