By Rachel Belle
Image courtesy Sutra Vegetarian Cuisine
Although we'd probably hate to admit it, many of us are more Homer Simpson than Hare Krishna when it comes to eating. We eat with the TV on, while checking email, while driving to an appointment and we often shovel food into our mouths without a second thought. But some people are slowing down and practicing what they call mindful eating.
"Just taking in the whole environment. How are you feeling? What is the ambiance around you? What does the food look like? What does it taste like? How does your body feel when you eat it? Just really taking it all in so that you can experience it to the fullest," says Kelly Morrow, a registered dietician and nutrition instructor at Bastyr University.
I told Kelly that I've tried to eat this way: No distractions, trying to focus on the food, trying to be in the moment and not overeat. But it was really hard for me and I gave up after a single try.
"There's research about how long it takes to change a habit. They say that it usually takes about 30 days. So about a month of practicing something everyday and then it becomes second nature."
Together we had a little snack, and I got a lesson in mindful eating.
"I brought some raw almonds. If I were to just be eating those mindlessly, and not paying attention, I would probably not think that they tasted very good. A lot of times people go for things that have a lot of salt or a lot of sugar, things that are really stimulating. But if you really slow down and really pay attention to the way that something tastes, you'll notice more of the nuances, you'll have an appreciation."
At Sutra, a vegan fine dining restaurant in Seattle, every meal starts with a ritual.
"We ring the gong and then we say a non-denominational offering of thanks," says co-owner Amber Tande. "We talk a lot about the farmers and then we talk about the food. Not only where it came from but how it was prepared and what some of the ingredients are, maybe some things that people haven't heard of."
Amber says when she eats, she thinks about the tastes, the textures, where the food was grown and how her body reacts to what she's eaten at that moment, and again hours later.
"Without the distraction of TV or emails, just the pleasure of [the food] is a lot stronger. Then you start to need less. You start to know what you actually like to eat, what does your body like, what you feel immediately after."
If ringing a gong, and eating edible flowers, sounds a bit new age or Portlandia to you, keep in mind that both Amber and Kelly understand that people don't eat their meals in a yoga pose, that they have busy lives, and children at the table.
"It is a challenge," Amber says. "But I think part of it is to involve the kids in [the meals]. Why do you not like [the food]? Is it in your mouth? Is it what you see that you're not liking?'"
Both women say mindful eating is not necessarily about eating in silence. It's about connecting with the food and the people you're with so every meal is more satisfying, physically, mentally and spiritually.