You look down at a beautiful plate of food carefully prepared by you, your spouse, a friend, or the takeout restaurant down the street. Maybe you are alone on your couch or at the dinner table or surrounded by your family or friends. Conversation starts, or you open a book or glance at your open computer conveniently positioned by your side. The next time you look down, the plate is empty and you reengage in conversation or continue reading or typing. The next day, you may not even remember what you had for dinner. Sound familiar? The ability to tune out the food you eat affects your digestion, weight, and even stress levels. It’s time to tune back in—to bring your full attention back to the process of eating.
Tuning in to your food is an approach to eating that brings your five senses—sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste—to the forefront of the eating experience. To do that, first you have to slow down. It should come as no surprise that our go-go culture practically encourages us to eat fast. The quantity of accomplishments in one day determines the value of the day, making carving out time to eat an indulgence rather than a necessity. Honoring the process of eating as a life- and health-sustaining necessity through the five senses requires time, yes, but the benefits—improved digestion, potential weight loss, and stress reduction—far exceed the effort.
Start by simply looking at and smelling your food. Your sight and sense of smell trigger a process that gets your digestive juices moving and ready to accept what is about to come into the body. In simple terms, without the proper preparation, the body is not fully capable of breaking down the food, which leads to indigestion (including gas and bloating, heartburn, and acid reflux) and possible gastrointestinal problems. The proper focus on the food in front of you—tuning in to the sight and smell of your food—is one of the best ways to avoid any annoying food-related stomach issues.
Once the food is in your mouth consciously chew!. Notice the texture and sound (if applicable) of the food, and chew until the sound goes from loud to soft, and the texture transforms from solid to liquid. From a digestive viewpoint, large bites of foods that are inadequately chewed and therefore not broken down are more difficult for your body to process, again leading to indigestion and possible gastrointestinal problems. From the perspective of achieving or maintaining a healthy weight, consider that it takes approximately twenty minutes from the time you start eating for your brain to send out signals of fullness. Quite simply, fast eaters are able to eat more during that twenty-minute time period, making them three times more likely to be overweight. Noticing texture and sound while eating not only encourages slower eating but also improves your digestion by doing most of the digestive work at the start of the process.
Tuning in to your sense of taste makes your meals a gastronomic pleasure. Deliberately taste your food; ask yourself how the taste makes you feel and if it reminds you of anything from your past or the taste of other foods you love. Adding these types of pleasure reminders to your eating experience makes eating a type of mindfulness practice. Focusing on these thoughts of pleasure during your meal crowds out other stressful thoughts of what else you may have to accomplish or do once your meal is over, thus allowing for three periods of stress-free living per day.
Eating on the run, or while working, reading, or watching TV takes away from the focus needed to digest and appreciate your food and the eating experience as a whole. Take the time to tune in to your food for improved health and well-being.
- Eat whole foods. Eating too quickly is often a product of hunger. Whole foods (aka unprocessed foods) are higher in fiber, protein, and good fat. To curb cravings and decrease that sensation of feeling “starving”—and therefore slow your eating pace—eat regular meals and snacks consisting of whole foods, never allowing more than three hours to pass without eating.
- Schedule a time to eat. For too many of us, eating is wedged between meetings, activities, and obligations. Setting a time to eat encourages sitting down and taking the time necessary to reap the benefits of tuning in to your food using the five senses.
- Put down your eating utensils. To help break the habit of shoveling food into your mouth, put down your utensils between bites of food. While you chew, use your sense of touch to define the texture of the food and your sense of taste to enjoy the flavor of the food.