The Art of Mindful Eating

I am so excited to present to you a guest blog post by Lilian Cheung, D.Sc., R.D. Cheung is the coauthor of Savor – Mindful Eating, Mindful Life (which she wrote with Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh). When I read about Savor in the New York Times Dining section earlier this week, I knew immediately that I wanted to share it with the readers of The Secret Ingredient. Most of us love preparing our own foods–we collect cookbooks and favorite recipes from food bloggers. We spend with our time during the preparation phase, but how many of us truly savor a meal the way Cheung and Hanh suggest in their book? Please read Cheung’s post–I think her approach to dining is a perfect complement to how we approach our cooking.

Most of us eat at least three times a day. Eating is a great opportunity to practice mindfulness, enabling us to experience the present moment more deeply, nourish ourselves, and touch more joy and peace. Yet, nowadays with our fast paced lives, many of us eat in a hurry, in front of the computer or television, or with our smart phones in hand. We’re not conscious of what we are eating, how much we’re eating, or why we have chosen this food. Not only do we bypass the sheer pleasure this food offers us, we end up eating more than we want and over time, our weight creeps up.

Eating mindfully is a very pleasant experience. As we sit down to eat, we give our true presence to the meal. We take time to connect with the food in front of us. Taking a few in and out breaths before beginning, we gather ourselves to focus on the meal. As we serve ourselves, we are mindful of what and how much we put on the plate. We slow down to appreciate the colors, the form, and the aroma of the foods. We chew well– at least 20 chews per bite– to fully appreciate the taste and texture of the food (and also to help our digestion). Chewing this way, we have the opportunity to truly savor the flavors of all the foods and herbs that nature has so generously given us.

I will never forget watching a young woman in a restaurant in Kochi Island, Japan. She was dressed in business attire, and dining alone. When the first course arrived, she paused and looked at the dish attentively from various angles as if trying to make sure that she had a panoramic view. She smiled at the dish, and then gently picked up her knife and fork, cut a small portion, and gracefully put it into her mouth. As she started to chew, she put her cutlery down. She nodded slightly and beamed a smile at the dish. She continued to savor each bite, nodding with joy and gratitude. Though she had no companions with her, she was at ease and totally immersed in her dining experience. It was as if she was acknowledging a special communion with her food. Watching her mindful way of eating was a delight.

A good way to get into the rhythm of mindful eating is to honor your food with a simple grace, such as The Five Contemplations:

  1. This food is the gift of the whole universe: the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard, loving work.
  2. May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.
  3. May we recognize and transform our unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed, and learn to eat with moderation.
  4. May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings, preserve our planet, and reverse the process of global warming.
  5. We accept this food so that we may nurture our sister- hood and brotherhood, strengthen our community, and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.

I suggest you print a color copy of the PDF from our website and display it on your dining table. Just glancing at the verses will be a good reminder to eat mindfully, so that you can truly savor your meal. Bon Appétit!

For more information on mindful eating, I invite you to visit our website, and join our Facebook community.

Dr. Cheung is a Lecturer, Director of Health Promotion & Communication, and Editorial Director of The Nutrition Source website at the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition.

Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the best-known and most-respected Zen masters in the world today. He is also a poet, and peace and human rights activist.

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