What does food mean to you? Most people probably like to think that their relationship with food is pretty good, and that they give food the respect it deserves in their lives. But is that really true?
Well, when you consider the fact that USDA statistics from 2016 show that the average American spends a grand total of 37 minutes a day preparing and serving food, and cleaning up, it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case. For many of us these days, food isn’t a great treat and blessing that we are constantly thankful to have, but is just something that we indulge in, absentmindedly, in the small blocks of time during the day when we are not too busy working, entertaining ourselves, or dealing with chores.
Of course, for anyone out there who seriously appreciates and cares about the power of a good meal, this is a travesty. But even just in general, there are some real downsides to having such a mindless relationship with food – including, perhaps, the current obesity epidemic, among other things. People who have a more mindful relationship with food are frequently slimmer, healthier, and happier. All that is pretty good. So, here are some tips for forging a more mindful relationship with food.
Reduce the number of high-tech gadgets you’re using, and do things the “old-fashioned” way
These days, it’s very easy to get a super high-end coffee machine which doesn’t need much more than the press of a button in order to generate a pot of perfectly brewed wake-up fuel. But, for all that, the good old-fashioned French Press hasn’t gone out of fashion yet.
How do you use a French Press? Trick question – everyone either already knows, or could figure out for themselves within five minutes. And yet, even though this coffee making tool certainly isn’t more “complicated” than a more high-end coffee machine, it does force you to be a bit more directly engaged with the process, and a bit more mindful about what you’re doing. There’s a certain ritual involved. You have two add the coffee grounds to the French Press (and maybe grind the coffee beans in advance), add the hot water, wait, press the plunger down, and serve. High-tech kitchen gadgets can certainly be useful, and it would be silly to try and get rid of all of them. After all, where would you draw the line? Would you throw out your modern gas or electric oven, and start cooking over a log fire again? All the same, reducing the number of high-tech gadgets you’re using, and doing more things around the kitchen in the “old-fashioned” way will connect you to the process in a much more meaningful way, and will make you more mindful about what you’re doing.
Treat each meal as a work of art, rather than just a way of filling your belly
There’s something known as the “French Paradox,” which is the situation where the French eat a diet that is pretty high in saturated fat, but have relatively low levels of coronary heart disease, nonetheless. In fact, over time, the French have engaged in all sorts of potentially suspect dietary choices, including drinking a lot more red wine than most experts consider healthy – while nonetheless maintaining good overall health outcomes relative to certain other parts of the developed world. One potential explanation for this paradox is the fact that the French traditionally treat each meal as a work of art, rather than just as a way of quickly filling their bellies. Meals are meaningful rituals, portions are managed for flavour and satiation rather than getting you “stuffed,” and food is eaten more slowly. All of this definitely equates to eating more mindfully, and it seems to be correlated to better overall health, too. Take a leaf out of the French book, here, and don’t just treat your meals as things that you whip up in 5 or 10 minutes, to take the edge off your hunger. Instead, treat them as things that really matter on a fundamental level, and let your inner chef come out.
Don’t multitask while you eat – focus on enjoying the meal, and put your phone away
The polar opposite of doing anything mindfully is trying to “multitask.” Multitasking, in general, is a far worse idea than most people assume it is, and various studies have provided evidence for the fact that people are just less efficient and effective, at whatever it is they’re doing, when they try and juggle several tasks simultaneously. For whatever reason, as human beings, it looks like we really need to dedicate our full attention to one thing at a time in order to perform to the best possible standard. Multitasking while eating may not seem like such a big deal, since you’re not likely to “mess it up,” but you’d be surprised. For a long time, in various traditional cultures, the idea has been prevalent that you need to avoid distraction when eating your meal, otherwise you won’t digest it properly. At the very least, it definitely seems to be the case that when you inhale your meal absentmindedly, while watching TV, you’re not going to enjoy it half as much as you could, and you’re liable to overeat as well, simply because you’re not paying attention to your body’s natural hunger cues. Keep in mind that “multitasking” while eating doesn’t just mean that you’re sitting on the sofa with a TV dinner, while watching a film. “Multitasking” during eating is also likely to occur when you’re actually sitting around the dinner table in a formal setting, and are reflexively checking your phone every few minutes to see what new updates you got on Facebook or Instagram. Bear in mind, this doesn’t just make you a less mindful eater, it also makes you a less pleasant dinner guest.
Eat more slowly, savour the meal, and avoid stuffing yourself
The idea of “intuitive eating” has been growing in popularity in the last few years, mostly as an antidote to all the different diet systems and structures out there that people subject themselves to in order to lose weight or improve their health, and that often make them pretty miserable in the process. The way that the idea of “intuitive eating” works, is that you eat whatever you have the urge to eat, but you eat it slowly, savour the taste, and stop as soon as you feel satisfied (and before you feel “full”). This idea of savouring your food and eating until you’re satisfied but not full, is pretty much a textbook definition of “eating mindfully,” and also mirrors advice from many cultures around the world that preach the benefits of leaving a bit of room at the end of a meal.
Make eating a social occasion
To properly “eat mindfully,” one of the best things you can do is to turn eating into a social occasion, rather than having it be the kind of thing that you just do by yourself. When you eat socially, your attention is unlikely to be completely “on your food” but it will be on the overall experience of savouring the meal, and of treating it as something important, rather than just some chore that you do. Since the dawn of time, human beings have been sharing food and forging connections around the dinner table, or bonfire. It seems like a pretty good tradition, and there’s no reason why you should give up on it now.
Hope you found these tips useful! Let me know if you have any other tips that you could recommend.