6 Mindful Eating Tips for Your Body and Soul
For starters, eat only when you’re hungry.
The average person spends at least one hour a day eating. So by the age of 30, you’ve spent the equivalent of two years just putting food in your mouth. How can we make this a more pleasurable, productive and meaningful experience?
Traditional Jewish thought has much to say about what we eat, how we eat, when we eat, and even why we eat, and much of it is and much of it is also recommended by modern scientists.
1. Eat hungry.
When was the last time you pulled over at a gas station to fill up your tank that was already full? Probably never. But when was the last time you ate something when you weren’t hungry?
Checking your hunger gauge before popping in that random bite will allow you to keep your weight in check as well as build your self-control. Going to your second event of the evening, already fed, and still have an urge to pop down some more food? Like the modern day nutritionists, King Solomon also advises against the unnecessary consumption of food, saying “The righteous eat to satisfy their souls” (Proverbs 13:25).
2. Sit down.
Late to work? Running after the kids? Doing errands? No problem – it’s just not the best time to be chomping down your meal. Although it may save time, it’s a bad idea. The Rambam, in his magnum opus Mishneh Torah , says that one should never stand or walk while eating.
Modern day scientific research also claims that this kind of eating is fattening and unhealthy. In fact, there is even a diet based on this understanding, called The Sit-Down Diet, which suggests that we consume fewer calories when we eat sitting down versus while standing up or walking. We are also more likely to digest food better when we sit down and chew our food properly.
You’re hungry and sitting down to your meal, now recognize where the food comes from. Taking three seconds to acknowledge basic details of the culinary dish placed before you can set the tone for rest of the meal. Something as simple as verbally acknowledging the work of the cook, especially if it is a parent or spouse, can have a profound effect on your mood. Paying attention to all of the individual ingredients can make the experience even more tasty.
In Judaism, every time food is consumed, one should recite a blessing of recognition prior to taking the first bite. A common misconception is that the blessing or bracha that is said before eating is a form of thanksgiving. This is not accurate; while the after-blessing of Birkat Hamazon mentions the act of thanksgiving, the initial blessing makes no mention of thanks. It is a statement acknowledging that God is the Creator of the food and we are essentially seeking permission to take His food.
4. Remove Distractions
One cannot fully enjoy a meal while answering emails or scrolling through a Facebook feed. Enjoying food is so important in Judaism that it incorporates the pleasure of eating in every one of its holidays. But we rob ourselves of this enjoyment every time we mindlessly eat.
Don’t care about enjoyment? Distracted eating causes your digestion to be less
effective in breaking down your food, leading to less flavor and increasing the possibility of bloating, gas and constipation. Trying to lose weight? Research shows that the more you distract yourself during a meal, the more pounds you add. Doing simple acts of mindfulness, such as paying attention to the smell, taste, appearance and texture of the food, can keep the focus on your meal.
5. Chew, Swallow, Wait… Repeat.
Ever mindlessly wolf down a meal in one minute? Scarfing down an entire meal can leave you feeling disheartened but it can also leave you with unwanted extra fat on your hips.
Taking your body off of auto-pilot mode while eating has great spiritual benefits as well. In describing ways of going against animalistic eating habits, the great 19th century Iraqi sage Rabbi Yosef Hayim in his famous book, Ben Ish Hai , gives a recommendation that is sure to slow your scarf. He writes that one should not reach for the next bite until the previous bite has been completely swallowed.
Speaking from experience this one tip is much easier said than done. However, once mastered, this eating habit is one that is sure to leaving you feeling in control and elevated. Especially if you take it to the next level and put down your utensil between bites.
Now that you’re satiated and your spirit is recharged, it’s time for some real thanksgiving (without the turkey). Saying thanks is much harder when you have somewhere else you want to go. Maybe that’s why the only biblically ordained blessing is the Grace After Meals and not before the meal.
Being appreciative is a core Jewish value. In fact, Jews are called Yehudim from the word L’hodot, or to thank. Gratitude permeates the entire Jewish experience, from the first words that are uttered by our lips when we wake up in the morning, to mentioning our thanks three times a day in our prayers.
Surprisingly, recently discovered side benefits of being filled with gratitude include improved health, increased self-esteem and even better sleep. Taking the extra minutes to appreciate our privileged satiated stomachs should now seem much easier.
Although not practical for every meal, striving towards these goals should help us lead more meaningful, in-control and healthy lives.