Experiencing Food More Intensely

Excerpts from "Mindful Eating as Food for Thought," by Jeff Gordinier, The New York Times, Feb. 7, 2012: 

Try this: place a forkful of food in your mouth. It doesn’t matter what the food is, but make it something you love — let’s say it’s that first nibble from three hot, fragrant, perfectly cooked ravioli.

Now comes the hard part. Put the fork down. This could be a lot more challenging than you imagine, because that first bite was very good and another immediately beckons. You’re hungry.

Today’s experiment in eating, however, involves becoming aware of that reflexive urge to plow through your meal like Cookie Monster on a shortbread bender. Resist it. Leave the fork on the table. Chew slowly. Stop talking. Tune in to the texture of the pasta, the flavor of the cheese, the bright color of the sauce in the bowl, the aroma of the rising steam.

Continue this way throughout the course of a meal, and you’ll experience the third-eye-opening pleasures and frustrations of a practice known as mindful eating.

The concept has roots in Buddhist teachings. Just as there are forms of meditation that involve sitting, breathing, standing and walking, many Buddhist teachers encourage their students to meditate with food, expanding consciousness by paying close attention to the sensation and purpose of each morsel. In one common exercise, a student is given three raisins, or a tangerine, to spend 10 or 20 minutes gazing at, musing on, holding and patiently masticating.

Lately, though, such experiments of the mouth and mind have begun to seep into a secular arena, from the Harvard School of Public Health to the California campus of Google. In the eyes of some experts, what seems like the simplest of acts — eating slowly and genuinely relishing each bite — could be the remedy for a fast-paced Paula Deen Nation in which an endless parade of new diets never seems to slow a stampede toward obesity.

Mindful eating is not a diet, or about giving up anything at all. It’s about experiencing food more intensely — especially the pleasure of it. You can eat a cheeseburger mindfully, if you wish. You might enjoy it a lot more. Or you might decide, halfway through, that your body has had enough. Or that it really needs some salad.

“This is anti-diet,” said Dr. Jan Chozen Bays, a pediatrician and meditation teacher in Oregon and the author of “Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food.” “I think the fundamental problem is that we go unconscious when we eat.”


O.K., so you don’t happen to live in a Buddhist monastery. You can still give mindful eating a spin by incorporating a few chilled-out gestures and rituals into your regular calorie intake.

WHEN YOU EAT, JUST EAT. 

Unplug the electronica. For now, at least, focus on the food.

CONSIDER SILENCE.

Avoiding chatter for 30 minutes might be impossible in some families, especially with young children, but specialists suggest that greenhorns start with short periods of quiet.

TRY IT WEEKLY.

Sometimes there’s no way to avoid wolfing down onion rings in your cubicle. But if you set aside one sit-down meal a week as an experiment in mindfulness, the insights may influence everything else you do.

PLANT A GARDEN, AND COOK.

Anything that reconnects you with the process of creating food will magnify your mindfulness.

CHEW PATIENTLY.

It’s not easy, but try to slow down, aiming for 25 to 30 chews for each mouthful.

USE FLOWERS AND CANDLES.

Put them on the table before dinner. Rituals that create a serene environment help foster what one advocate calls “that moment of gratitude.”

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