Mindful Eating

June 20, 2019

When explaining the concept of mindfulness during the seminars I conduct for companies, I often hear the questions: “I understand the theory, but how do I know that I am doing it right? That I am in this moment? And what happens, if I do it right?"

 

THE THEORY

Let’s quickly recapitulate the formula that applies to every mindfulness practice and meditation: openhearted, moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness. The spiritual goal is to experience this present moment with all its details by consciously directing our attention to what we perceive with our senses. What we see, hear, feel, taste or smell. Our attention can either be directed to our environment, the outside world, or inward to our bodily sensations, our feelings or thoughts, depending of the type of mindfulness we are practicing. When we practice mindful eating, we consciously direct our attention to the food in front of us and to perceiving the meal with all our senses. How does the food look? How does it smell? What does it taste like? How does it feel? How does it sound? You think you can’t hear food? Imagine breaking a fresh French baguette in half. I am sure most of you have a very specific sound in mind right now.

 

THE BENEFIT

What is the benefit of mindful eating? The same as of any other mindfulness practice: The brain circuits responsible for our self-focused and often sorrowful mental chatter will calm down. The result is relaxation of mind and body. In this relaxed state of mind, the body can jettison stress, tension, and blockages. And let’s remind ourselves: Eating can be a very sensual experience. Almost every first date is a romantic dinner. During our work day we tend to do the exact opposite. We eat superficially, unconsciously and mostly even stressed while checking e-mail or surfing on our smartphones.

 

THE LIGHT BULB MOMENT

During my seminars I have the luxury to offer a very exciting exercise: After the lecture, the participants eat their lunch blind folded. By not being able to use their eye-sight, they can’t help themselves but to focus their attention on the food in order to lead the fork or spoon to the mouth and smell, taste, hear and touch, what they eat (they do not know what is served and are requested to guess). Of course, there is always a very crusty bread on the menu to make my point. During this exercise every participant who had doubts before that they would know when they are in the moment then responds: “Oh wow! Now I understood and know what if feels like”. When I ask during the meal: “Is anyone thinking about their e-mail?” The unison answer is: “No, far from it. It is amazing, but nothing work-related entered my mind since we started to eat”. You cannot imagine how relaxed these people get up after their mindful eating experience.

 

…quod erat demonstrandum!

 

Please keep in mind, to make mindfulness an integral part of your life, you need to practice regularly. And you must eat every day anyway. So, maybe combining the two and practicing mindful eating could be your thing.

 

USE YOUR LUNCH BREAK

How about using your lunch break for practicing mindfulness? „Lunch? You kiddin‘? Lunch is for wimps!” Remember Gordon Gekko (alias Michael Douglas) in the movie “Wall Street”? If you feel that going to lunch during a busy work day would be a waste of time or that your boss would think that you didn’t have a lot of work on your plate, if you allowed yourself to go to lunch or that eating in front of your PC was more convenient, etc..., I have to disappoint you. There is no good reason to skip lunch break but many good reasons not to.

 

Every living creature needs a break, even our heart pauses between two beats. If we physically work hard our body might signal clearly that it needs a break because our muscles get sore or our back hurts. Our brain might not signal this as clearly or we dismiss the need for a break as we “only” work intellectually. Our strategy to skip lunch and keep on working to save time does not add up. Studies show that our ability to focus reduces over time. Eventually we will be much less productive. However, if we take that lunch break, we have significantly more energy and perform better during the second half of our workday. If we even practice mindful eating, we give ourselves an amazing energy boost! If lunch is still not the right time for you, try breakfast or dinner. However, no matter which meal you chose, leave your smartphone or TV off during the time you eat. New research finds having a smartphone within reach significantly divides our attention, even if we are not actively looking at it.

 

LAST BUT NOT LEAST

@ Dear leaders: Please allow your teams to take their lunch break without having to fear negative consequences (you might not even be aware that you convey the message of disapproval).

 

Or visiting my mindful eating seminar could be your next team event...

 

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