Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mindful Eating: An Introduction

"Wherever you are, be all there." ~Jim Elliot~

Several years ago, two of my colleagues attended a conference on mindful eating.  Upon their return, they told me about an exercise they did while there.  They had to eat a raisin over the course of 7 minutes.  7 whole minutes!  During that time, they had to write down everything they noticed about the raisin...taste, texture, color, mouth feel, etc.  After doing this exercise, they revealed how eye-opening it was.  They both admitted that they'd never really noticed their food in this much detail.  I'm sure most of us don't.  Do we?  I was curious, so I tried this exercise at home.  I observed things about a raisin that I'd never recognized in the past.  It made the experience of eating the raisin more interesting and gratifying.  It may sound crazy, I know, but try it!

This exercise made me reflect on the variety of ways that many of us are out of touch with our eating experiences.  Although taste has been identified as the most influential determinant of our food choices, one survey suggests that fewer Americans report having as much pleasure associated with eating food.  Yes, pleasure goes beyond taste alone, but this surprises me given that about 2/3 of American adults are overweight or obese.  Sometimes we're just going through the motions because the clock says it's time to eat or because we're distracted by something else while we're eating whether it be the television or a thought. Occasionally, we let external factors influence our eating:  a diet, package or plate size, a friend, colleague, or parent.  More of us are distancing ourselves from the eating experience by relying on someone else to prepare our food for us.  In fact, the average American eats out for about 4 meals/week and spends 42% of the food budget on dining out.  That is up from about 3% in the early 1900's!  As a lover of cooking, I personally find that when I prepare my own food at home that I am more satisfied with the eating experience.  Some of us think of eating as a chore. Many of my clients and students skip meals or rush through a meal because they're "too busy" or "it's too much work".  These behaviors can definitely rob one of the satisfaction that can be gained through eating.

As a registered dietitian, one of my primary goals is to help people develop a more healthful and enjoyable relationship with food and eating.  So I'm going to spend the next few blog posts on the topic of mindful eating.  While a quick Google search will uncover many definitions for mindful eating, I will tell you what I think it involves.
  • We direct our full attention to the immediate eating experience.  
  • We connect our bodies and minds to facilitate more guided choices in eating.  
  • We explore various aspects of food from production and preparation to flavor and aroma.  
  • We savor the pleasure and nourishment eating offers without judgment.    
So, are you ready to take your eating experience to the next level?  If so, stay tuned as I delve into the topic mindful eating and discuss strategies that will enhance your eating experience!


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