I’m not always a mindful eater. As a former chronic dieter: eating was a numbers game of counting calories and tallying macro nutrients. For my Virgo-fueled meticulousness, this was pure pleasure: I’d have the perfect mathematical equation of food in front of me, then eat at my desk while I worked.
Or even worse, as a server in a restaurant, the only way to eat was standing up in dry storage, shoving a few bites in my mouth (swallowed whole) before checking my teeth for rogue quinoa and running back out onto the floor to take a 6-top’s dessert order.
I’ve talked before about how ritual is nourishing and vital to staying balanced, and that the simplest acts can become renewed with sacrality when you slow down and bring some mindfulness into the mundane. Let us begin with food.
Eating is a natural place for ritual to settle into. It is, after all, the way that we nourish ourselves, body, mind & soul. Studies have shown that when you eat while working, distracted, or stressed out, your body doesn’t process food the same way–whether it’s an avocado or a cupcake.
When our fight or flight (sympathetic) part of the nervous system is engaged, we don’t absorb nutrients. Instead, our bodies are focusing on how to escape the bear that’s about to devour us. Except now the bear has become an email from the boss, or scrolling through your Facebook feed, or Pinning a new recipe (yes, while you’re eating. I have totally done this.)
Pleasure will not stand being multi-tasked: in order to fully enjoy eating, sex, art, massage, whatever, you must devote your entire attention to it to maximize your experience. Anything else is selling yourself short of the experience. And who wants to experience LESS pleasure?
Here are a few ways to make your meals ritualistic, mindful, and positively witchy:
Wait until you’re hungry
You know how we just love things we have to wait for? Why that first bite after a long hike is extra tasty? Why a romp in the sack with someone you’ve had it bad for is all the more satisfying if you’ve waited an extra day (…or hour)? Why, when you’re uber-thirsty, the first swig of water tastes almost sweet?
We derive more pleasure from something when we crave it, when we let the tension build. Same thing goes with eating. If you can, wait until you’re tummy grumbles, gently letting you know that “hey, it’d be nice to eat something right now.” Sometimes this means avoiding snacking, but not to the point of being hangry. (I, too, am a banshee when my blood sugar dips a bit too low.) Be curious and playful.
Prepare with love
I highly recommend cooking your own food as often as you can. If I have a busy week ahead of me, I make a week’s worth of lunches and dinners the Sunday before and have everything ready to go.
Use local & organic ingredients where you can. They are energetically different, and aren’t genetically modified or pesticide-laden. Then, while you’re chopping, following your recipe or sauteing, infuse your food with love. You can repeat a mantra that means something to you, or sing a happy song, or shake your hips (careful, now) or even imagine your food bathed in white love-light. Get weird with it.
Be mindful of what you put in your mouth
I tend to snack while I prepare food, like munching on veggies I’ve just chopped before tossing them into the pan. Instead, I try to be mindful of every bite, and not eat until I am seated and centered. This brings me to:
Get seated and centered
Patanjali says in the first yoga sutra: Now is the time for the practice of Yoga. Take that and say to yourself: Now is the time for the practice of eating. Seriously: sit down. Breathe.
Take a moment to feel gratitude for your food. For the sun and the earth that nourished it to grow, and how it will nourish you. For the workers that harvested it, the farmers that cared for it, for the people who sold it to you. (Do you see a local zucchini’s energy might be different than a factory-farmed one?)
Slow down, and enjoy
If you’ve ever been out to eat with me, you know I have sex with my food. Aural sex, anyway: My mealtimes shared with other people are usually sprinkled with lots of “mmm!”s and “try this!” and “Oh my Gawd”s. I can’t help it–I love delicious things and actually making noises increases the pleasure of the meal and my satiety when I’m done.
Give yourself permission to fully enjoy your food, every forkful. Try this: Chew each bite 35 times or 20 times, or 15: the main point is to pulverize the food for maximum nutrient absorption, and for your body to recognize that you’re eating. You can listen to relaxing music, or a chill podcast, but this is time for nourishing your body.
Put your fork or spoon down between bites and think about the texture, the taste, and how the quality of the food will make your body feel that same way.
Getting your body up and moving after a meal, even for 10 minutes, is a fantastic way to get the digestion going and tells your body that it’s time to use that food for energy. Keep it easy: a little walk or even a few sun salutes and stretching (avoid the inversions, though).
This is a lot to ask: don’t expect to suddenly incorporate all of the above into every meal. Take what you can do, and leave what doesn’t fit into your mealtimes. The point is to make this ritual sustainable, even if it’s only one meal per day or week. Go slowly, and remember that this practice incorporates more compassion and pleasure into eating, it’s not an excuse to beat yourself up.