Mindful Eating: Awakening the Mind & Heart, Blog 4
“When we can slow down and really enjoy our food,
our life takes on a much deeper quality.
I love to sit and eat quietly and enjoy each bite,
aware of the presence of my community,
aware of all the hard and loving work
that has gone into my food.
When I eat in this way, not only am I physically nourished,
I am also spiritually nourished.
The way I eat influences everything else
that I do during the day.”
—Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindful eating is conscious eating. As we eat, we practice awakening our mind and senses to the experience. Our heightened senses awaken our heart to appreciation and gratitude for our food and all that went into bringing it to us.
Mindful eating is nourishing—physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually.
Mindful eating renews our sense of pleasure, appreciation, and satisfaction with eating. We slow down and savor our food with all of our senses.
When we slowly chew our food, we aid our digestion and are more likely to stop when we have eaten enough. Eating too quickly or eating while we are doing tasks interferes with our digestive system. In addition, we may overeat, since it takes the brain about 20 minutes to register that the body is full. For a summary of current research on the health benefits of mindful eating, go to this link: The Center for Mindful Eating.
The practice of mindful eating can transform our struggles with food. We may be in the habit of using food to comfort ourselves when we are depressed, stressed, or bored. Emotional eating can lead to out-of-control cravings, health problems, and obesity. Learn more in the book Mindful Eating, A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, by physician and meditation teacher Dr. Jan Bays.
Mindful eating establishes healthy habits for ourselves and for our earth. If we are distracted internally or externally, mindless munching can happen. We may eat too much or too fast, eat unhealthy foods, or not even notice what we are eating. When we eat mindfully, we take the time to appreciate the nourishing foods that are provided to us by our planet. This inspires us to consume responsibly.
“Eating a vegetarian diet
50% of the time or more
makes a difference
in the health of our planet.”
—Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindful eating can be practiced during meals or snacks. It can be practiced in silence or as you engage in mindful conversations—with your family, friends, co-workers, and community members.
As you begin practicing mindful eating, take small steps—appreciate where the food came from and eat the first few bites with mindfulness.
Before you eat:
Check in with your body. Ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” If not, do something
else, such as resting, reading, or going for a short walk.
If the answer is yes, ask yourself, “How hungry am I? What does my body need?
Am I thirsty?”
Select portions that are just right for you to keep your body nourished and to maintain a healthy weight.
Find a quiet and serene environment, if possible, to enjoy your meal or snack.
Bring your attention out of your head and into your body by taking two in-breaths and out-breaths.
Put a half smile on your face and take a few seconds to pause, look at, and appreciate your food.
Contemplate and appreciate where your food comes from and all the helping hands involved: the planet (plants, animals, the earth, sun, rain), the farmer, the distributors and the workers at the grocery store, the cook.
If you are eating with others, enjoy their company. If you are sharing a space with strangers, smile to the people near you to put yourself and others at ease.
As you eat:
Breathe in the aroma.
Feel the texture on your tongue.
Listen to the sound as you bite into your food.
Savor the taste!
Take small bites, chew each bite slowly and thoroughly before you take another bite.
Eating a perfectly ripe, delicious strawberry
Appreciate the deep red color, sunny yellow freckles, and bright green cap.
Enjoy the delightfully sweet smell.
Hear the slight crunch as you take a bite.
Feel the juicy texture on your tongue.
Savor the intense, distinctive flavor.
Midway through your eating, stop and notice:
Are you enjoying and savoring the food?
Are you eating slowly and taking the time to pause and breathe?
Remember, it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to register fullness.
After you eat/drink:
Notice how you feel.
Is your hunger satisfied? Would you choose that food again?
Did you practice eating mindfully?
If not, what is one thing you can focus on in your next meal (e.g., chew slowly).
Be grateful that you have the opportunity throughout each day to select and savor satisfying and nourishing meals and snacks.
- When you are eating, just eat.
Turn off your phone, iPad, or television, put away mail or homework.
Avoid eating meals/snacks in front of the computer or at your desk.
- Slow down and nurture yourself.
It’s best to eat when you are only slightly hungry, not famished.
Choose food that you really like and that satisfies and nourishes your body.
Eat your meal or snack with a cup of hot tea; this will help you slow down and enjoy your food.
- Tune into when you are full.
Use a small plate or bowl to eat in moderation and reduce waste.
Give your mind time to tell your body when it is full—
set your spoon or fork down between bites and take a conscious breath.
- Eat in mindful silence.
Experiment with eating some full meals silently at home.
For any meal or snack, enjoy eating in silence for at least a few minutes.
- Enjoy mindful company.
If you are eating with others, pay attention to the meal, your breath, and the conversation. This gives you the opportunity to practice mindful eating, breathing, and listening!
Mindful eating can happen anywhere:
- During meals or snacks
- As a meditation in a quiet area
- In a crowded, noisy room
- At home, in a restaurant, or in a deli
- Alone, with a friend, or in a group
- Anywhere and anytime
Practicing Mindful Eating
Awakening the Heart Mindfulness Retreat
led by Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay), UBC, August, 2011
We practiced mindful eating during our retreat meals and snacks.
Thay introduced The Five Contemplations, statements of gratitude that remind us to appreciate the food and all that brought it to our table. These were placed on place cards in the center of each table to read prior to eating our meals. (The Five Contemplations are included in Thay’s book, How to Eat, highlighted at the end of this blog.)
Before we ate our meal, a bell sounded to remind us to connect to our body, by taking three in-breaths and out-breaths. The bell sounded every so often to remind us to stop eating for a moment and take a mindful breath.
We ate each meal in silence. Thay encouraged us to smile at those eating with us; connecting to
and appreciating our meal companions is a very important part of the mindful eating practice.
While at first this felt awkward—our culture is not used to eating in silence—it soon became a restful
practice to not engage in conversation. The feeling of sacred community permeated the large cafeteria of mindful eaters.
Wishes for Your Daily Practice
We’ve created a pdf of the following wishes, each in a mindfulness circle, as gentle reminders for your daily mindful eating practice to awaken your mind and heart.
♥ May I savor each bite with all my senses.
♥ May I chew slowly and enjoy my food.
♥ May I eat just what my body needs to be healthy.
♥ May I eat in quiet, serene environments.
♥ May I thank the earth and others for my nutritious food.
♥ May I smile, breathe, and eat mindfully.
Please click here to download your gift:
You can print, clip, laminate, and post the circles in your home (on mirrors, near your sitting area), car (on the dash), and office (on your computer). You can also place the circles in a basket and select one to focus on during the day.
Books by Thay
Click on the title to view or purchase.
How to Eat, 2014
by Thich Nhat Hanh
How to Eat provides practical advice on how to become truly nourished through the mindful preparation, serving, eating, and cleaning up of food.
Thay introduces The Five Contemplations to recognize and honor all that nourishes us.
Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, 2010
by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung
Thich Nhat Hanh and Harvard nutritionist Dr. Lilian Cheung help us to gently uncover the roots to unhealthy eating habits. They offer practical tools for ending struggles with weight, including a detailed nutrition guide and mindful living plan.
♥Awakening the Mind & Heart: Daily Mindfulness Practices 4 Life
♥Daily Mindfulness Practices 4 Life: Awakening the Mind & Heart, Blog 1
♥ Mindful Breathing: Awakening the Mind & Heart, Blog 2
♥ Mindful Walking: Awakening the Mind & Heart, Blog 3
♥ Mindful Eating: Awakening the Mind & Heart, Blog 4
♥ Mindful Loving: Awakening the Mind & Heart, Blog 5
Thich Nhat Hanh quotations and book content are reprinted with permission from Parallax Press, 2015.
Pictures of Thay and his calligraphy are reprinted with permission from Plum Village, 2015.