One of the blogs I was privileged enough to write for TINO.
I recently wrote a blog post on healthy eating but I realised I left out something important. I talked about what to eat, but I didn’t mention anything about how to eat. And that’s probably even more important in terms of having a healthy diet, as well as really enjoying the experience of food.
One of the big problems I have is that if there’s food in front of me, I’ll probably eat it. As my girlfriend can tell you, it doesn’t matter how full I am, I’ll find room for it somewhere. I hate for food to go to waste, so instead I let it go to my waist. (I’m sorry, I know that was terrible, but I just couldn’t resist.) As another friend of mine put it, “My mouth is bigger than my stomach”, meaning if it tastes delicious he’ll just keep eating.
The solution to this is a little self-restraint. In Buddhist philosophy, there is quite a lot of emphasis on moderation and “The Middle Way” (avoiding extremes). One expression of this is casually referred to as the 80% rule. Whenever you eat, eat only until you are 80% full- your stomach actually has to work a lot harder when it’s full to the brim with food. (This causes its own problems, like discomfort, heartburn and indigestion.) To help with this, try using a smaller plate instead of a medium or large one. Or if you only have one size plate available, fill it half or three quarters full. After you finish, wait a little while and see if you’re still hungry before you go for more. I tell you this not to say that dramatic weight loss is the most important reason to watch what you eat, but by positively changing how much you put on your plate and how often you go for seconds, you can make a big difference to the overall health of your body.
Another part of eating well is only eating when you’re hungry. If you’re eating because there’s a scheduled break, snacking because you like the taste of food, or indulging because you’re just plain bored, you might be putting more food into your body than it actually needs. Hunger is your body’s natural response to needing more energy, so eating when you’re not hungry is like sleeping when you’re not tired or sweating when you’re not hot. When you overeat, much of the food isn’t being used for nutrition or energy- it just gets turned into waste, and you know how I feel about wasting food! (I’m just full of bad puns today.) Wait until you build up an appetite before you eat, and try not to fill up on snacks before mealtimes.
Finally, and most importantly is something referred to as “mindfulness”. Mindfulness is essentially the practice of focusing the mind entirely on what you are experiencing in the present moment. So much of the richness of life is overlooked because we’re not fully present when we’re living. As an example, I’ve been to a few classical music concerts in my life, and invariably I find that I spend most of the evening thinking about something else rather than paying attention to how incredible the music is. Buddhists believe that this wandering, “monkey” mind is one of the main reasons people are unable to enjoy life. And it’s not just for Buddhists- there is plenty of research in contemporary psychology as well as ancient philosophy to extol the benefits of mindful living.
As many worthy people have said, food is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Imagine eating at a five-star restaurant and not paying attention to the food – what tragedy! To help cultivate a practice of focusing your mind on the experience of eating food, try this the next time you eat:
Take a single spoonful/forkful of food, put it in your mouth, then put the spoon/fork down while you chew. Really focus on the sensations and experiences you’re feeling; the scent and smell, the transitioning textures and the transforming tastes. Only when you’ve finished the first mouthful can you take up the cutlery for a second. Don’t be in a hurry to wolf it all down, really taste and enjoy what you’re tasting!
If you do all that, in conjunction with eating healthy, delicious meals, you’ll notice some incredible changes in your digestion. But perhaps more importantly, you’ll really enjoy eating, no matter what the dish! Mindful eating makes a bland meal taste flavoursome, and a flavoursome meal taste mind-blowing. Give it a try today!