Erica is The Teaching Well’s in-house nutritionist for all food-related wellness needs!
Food serves many purposes; as comfort, as a way to celebrate, or for bonding. I love a great meal with friends or family, when the focus is enjoyment and connecting.
But there can be a darker side of using food for purposes beyond fuel for our bodies. Food can easily be used as a distraction, dealing with stress, or for filling an emotional void. And in most cases, the types of food desired are not typically fish and steamed vegetables, but rather sweets or salty foods that are neither health-promoting nor energy-giving.
Try This: Create a Meal Ritual
Creating a ritual - whether with a snack or full meal - can help to bring back the true purpose of food as nourishment. A meal ritual can help bring attention to your body, and allow yourself to come into parasympathetic mode, or “rest and digest” mode. In this state, your physical body is best able to break down and absorb food. Mentally, it can remind you to be present, and enjoy your food.
You can create your own meal ritual with something as simple as taking a deep breath before eating. What exactly you do isn’t as important as doing it with intention. Here are a few other practices you can consider when creating your own meal ritual:
Say one gratitude
Turn off or remove all electronic devices (TV, cell phone, computer)
Remove any other stimuli - even an innocent good book or magazine
Light a candle
Use a real plate
Set out a place mate and silverware
Take 1-3 deep breaths before picking up your fork
Set your timer for 1 minute to simply look at your food and smell the aromas
Eat outside in the sunlight and take a moment to feel the warmth on your skin
What I do
When I first tried doing a meal ritual, it felt a little awkward because I often eat alone. I felt like I needed to have something to do or something to look at so I wouldn’t be lonely. With practice, though, I’m now quite comfortable turning all my attention to myself and my food.
My meal ritual consists of two things: saying a gratitude, and removing my cell phone. I try to say a gratitude about something simple and specific, like how thankful I am that my partner does laundry, or how amazing it was that my friend from the east coast called me out of the blue. I then try to chew, really chew, and just taste. If you experiment with chewing, you’ll find that the taste changes a bit as the salivary enzymes begin mixing with the food.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s How to Eat offers small mediations on mindful eating. Keep this little book by your kitchen table and read a page before a meal.
Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Jan Chozen Bays, MD, is a more in-depth guide on how to implement mindful eating.