The media perpetuates a kind of dread of the holidays, especially Thanksgiving. For instance, today, in just a span of 10 minutes, I received two emails from WebMD about holiday foods that will wreck my diet.
Yes, really, those were the terms they used. (I can’t tell you the satisfaction I get from simply deleting these emails and others like them.)
It’s hard to look forward to our favorite foods when we’re taught to feel fearful, guilty and ashamed for eating — and actually enjoying it.
I think the key to enjoying food – without feeling guilty – is to shift our perspective: from seeing food as enemy #1, 2 and 3, as a sin and something not “worth the calories” (how many times have you said that?) to viewing it with awe, appreciation and curiosity.
Mindfulness gives us the opportunity to do all three. Below I’ve included some of my favorite excerpts on mindful eating.
In How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness: Simple Daily Mindfulness Practices for Living Life More Fully & Joyfully, Jan Chozen Bays, M.D., encourages readers to look into the history of our foods and be grateful for everyone involved in the process.
She writes: “Use the power of imagination to see where it comes from and how many people might have been involved in bringing it to your plate,” such as the people who planted and harvested the food, the grocers and the family members who cooked it. “Thank those people before you take a sip or a bite.”
Bays cites Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (I love this quote):
“A person who practices mindfulness can see things in a tangerine that others are unable to see. An aware person can see the tangerine tree, the tangerine blossoms in the spring, the sunlight and rain which nourished the tangerine. Looking deeply one can see the ten thousand things which have made the tangerine possible…and how all these things interact with each other.”
Russ Harris in The Confidence Gap: A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt talks about paying more attention while we’re eating, even to the silverware! My favorite part is his suggestion to pretend to be a food critic. No doubt these individuals pay close attention to the details.
“…pause for a moment before your first bite, and notice the different aromas of the various ingredients and the colors, shapes and textures of the different foods. Then, as you cut up the food, notice the sounds made by your cutlery and the movements of your hands and arms and shoulders. And as you eat the first mouthful, notice the tastes and textures in your mouth, as if you were a gourmet food critic who has never tasted a meal like this before.”
In True Belonging: Mindful Practices to Help You Overcome Loneliness, Connect with Others & Cultivate Happiness, Jeffrey Brantley, M.D, and Wendy Millstine, NC, also offer great ideas on eating mindfully. First, before you even begin your meal, they suggest taking a few slow breaths.
They also note the importance of thinking about the origins of our food, and how incredibly connected we are to so many people through our meal.
“With your plate of food in front of you, just sit and observe. Take notice of the colors, aromas, textures, temperature and details. Now, choose one thing out of your meal…and study it carefully. Pick something that captures your attention and ask, Where did it come from? How was it grown? Who grew it? Who packaged it? How did it get to my grocery store? Imagine the seed resting in the soil that was kissed by the sun and doused by the water, which gave this food its life. Imagine the birds and insects and flowers that also helped in the germination and growth of the plant that feeds you.
Take this moment to contemplate where your food came from before it reached your plate. It could be a cow grazing on the prairie or a field of corn or a fruit tree in your backyard. It may have come from California or Florida or Mexico, or New Zealand. It may have been trucked in or brought by train or plane…Nature plays a role in the miracle of this meal. Many people orchestrated the making of it. Be a witness to the wonderment of how much energy and dedication goes into your meal.
Now, take your first bite. Savor it wholeheartedly. Experience it fully and with your undivided attention and awareness. In a single bite, you can begin to perceive the hard work of generations of family farmers who may be connected to your meal. You are eating with the sun and the rain and the farmer and the bumblebee. They are all joining you for this meal.
This Thanksgiving and holiday season, I hope we can banish the guilty feelings and allow ourselves to enjoy any foods we like. I hope we can truly savor each bite and be grateful to everyone who helped get it to our table.
Of course, adjusting our viewpoint takes some practice, but that’s totally OK. Just starting to chip away at the old pro-dieting framework is a powerful start.
How will you savor your food? Which of these quotes resonated with you?
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Last reviewed: 31 Mar 2014