What’s the best way to eat? Well, a quiet, pleasant relaxed atmosphere would be a start. Perhaps good company. The obvious, I suppose. But while the atmos is important, it’s more about what you do while you eat — or more to the point, what you don’t do.
For some time, I’ve come to prefer eating in silence, taking my time, savouring each mouthful for its little surprises and subtleties. I think it had something to do with feeling that when I ate and chatted in conversation at the same time I didn’t feel I was chewing that well and therefore not digesting properly, which I was paying for a bit later.
It doesn’t mean I always do, especially if eating with friends and family. But if there’s going to be conversation, I prefer there to be not much of it and for it to be gentle in nature. Certainly no raucous chatter and raised voices — so, no surprise, loud restaurants just don’t do it for me.
It wasn’t always so. I grew up in a family where seconds were prized and so the race was on to shovel the first lot down as quickly as possible. It was something of a competition between the boys. Over the years, though, as my appreciation for subtlety has grown, I’m now quite happy to take my time.
Like everything, there’s now even a term for this approach to food: mindful eating. It has its roots in Buddhist teachings, which is big on mindfulness, but isn’t a diet as such. It’s about appreciating food more directly and intimately, especially the pleasure, the texture, the flavour. Slowing down eating allows for more time to feel each mouthful. So much so that you could even appreciate fast foods, even junk food. Taking the time to experience every mouthful will bring you much more in touch with the food itself. If it takes the brain up to 20 minutes to register that you’re full, it may mean you can stop before you’re actually full when eating more becomes more difficult. Taking a short break or breaks throughout the meal also helps give the brain time to catch up and at least tell you you’re approaching capacity. Gulping down food usually means eating a lot but then not feeling truly full because the brain isn’t up to speed yet! And then in we go for seconds or straight to dessert, which is another tricky thing altogether (see food combining).
Slowing down while eating is also a timely brake on the pace of modern life, when for a few times a day we get to breathe and contemplate. Even if it’s only to contemplate ‘why am I eating this?’ After a while, I’ve caught myself sometimes saying out loud, “hmm, that’s nice”, a sign I'm liking what I'm eating and appreciating the chef’s efforts, even if the chef's me!
So, turn off the TV and the phone, go for some soft lighting, light music or none, sit comfortably, breathe in and take that first mouthful. It’ll be a challenge at first for most of us, accustomed as we are to conversation, and being distracted by gadgets. In time, though, it gets easier.
However, if you can’t eat mindfully every day, how about trying one day or one meal a week. Sit at the table either alone or in good company. Even if you say let’s just eat in silence for the first five minutes. See how it goes. That’s the first step. Eating should be a sensuous, thoroughly pleasurable time; mindful eating can help bring some of the joy and delight back.
When eating, just eat. Unplug the world.
Consider quietness if not silence. It might be difficult for parents, but they may still be able to find some time to eat that dessert or lunch when the kids are at school, childcare or playing on the weekend or holidays.
Make at least one meal a week a silent one, by yourself or with another or a small group.
Planting your own garden and preparing your own food also helps connect you to the whole process, which is ultimately grounding.
Chew patiently; it’s not a race. Grandma advised chewing each mouthful 28 times and it was sound advice.
Make the table pleasant with objects that please; flowers and candles help.
Mindful Eating as Food for Thought by Jeff Gordinier New York Times Feb. 7, 2012
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