Always Well Within

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How to Practice Mindful Eating: Insights from Thich Nhat Hanh

How often – if ever – do you eat mindfully with full awareness?

These days, many of us are busy reading email, texting, or consuming blog posts while we eat.  Multi-tasking at meals is not beneficial for optimal digestion.  It also makes our life feel stressed and crammed and diminishes the richness to be experienced in each moment.

For those of us who have forgotten, this is an exquisite primer in eating with awareness:

“What does it mean to eat a tangerine with awareness? When you are eating the tangerine, you are aware that you are eating the tangerine. You fully experience its lovely fragrance and sweet taste. When you peel the tangerine, you know that you are peeling the tangerine; when you remove a slice and put it in your mouth, you know that you are removing a slice and putting it in your mouth; when you experience the lovely fragrance and sweet taste of the tangerine, you are aware that you are experiencing the lovely fragrance and sweet taste of the tangerine. The tangerine Nandabala offered me had nine sections. I ate each morsel in awareness and saw how precious and wonderful it was.

I did not forget the tangerine, and thus the tangerine became something very real to me. If the tangerine is real, the person eating it is real.  That is what it means to eat a tangerine in awareness…..

The path I have found is the path of living each hour of the day in awareness, mind and body always dwelling in the present moment. The opposite is to live in forgetfulness. If we live in forgetfulness, we do not know that we are alive. We do not fully experience life because our mind and body are not dwelling in the here and now.

– from Old Path, White Clouds, by Thich Nhat Hanh

I can almost smell and taste the tangerine just reading this sensational description!

Do you eat with awareness?  If not, give it a try and let us know what it was like in the comments.

Thank you for reading!  With love, Sandra

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30 Comments

  1. Of course, I was eating my bowl of granola when I read this. Guilty! While I do usually eat my breakfast in front of the computer as I find it is good reading time, I do not eat other meals here and do try to eat mindfully and consciously. If it is any consolation, this post made me try to detect e= the flavors of each berry and seed in my mouthful of granola! 🙂

    http://www.thebestbrainpossible.com/

    • One of the main challenges of eating mindfully is that it takes longer! So I am impressed that you are conscious of your choices and I would say 2 out of 3 is a great batting average!

  2. Vishnu's Virtues

    hey Sandra. How about never as far as eating mindfully. Lol. While at work, I constantly fidget about work and actually do work. At home, reading or talking to friends and family avoids mindful eating. One of my new year’s resolution this year was to be more mindful of everything I was doing. I guess I haven’t been doing that with eating! Usually, we think, ‘why waste time eating when you can write a blog post, read a magazine, interact with your friends with facebook etc etc”. Thanks for your article:)

    • Vishnu, So true that mealtimes are also a wonderful time to connect with friends and family. We don’t want to miss out on that! Maybe we can sneak in a little mindfulness now and then though!

  3. Sandra,
    I’ve been on a detox/green juicing adventure the past three weeks and it has lead me to such a new awareness of food! Things I used to love no longer appeal to me as my palate is cleansed by the new way of eating. I’m more mindful when shopping, cooking and eating and it has a life altering experience.

    • Sandi,
      I’m inspired by how you are jumping into changing your relationship to food. I bet the detox is really sharpening your senses. It sounds like an all around plunge into greater mindfulness. Thanks for sharing your adventure.

  4. I eat many of my meals in front of the computer or while reading a book, and I notice that I not only pay less attention to what I’m eating, but I also put less effort into making it — I just want to get back to my blog or Twitter or whatever. Being off the internet for over a week has made me realize how high a price I pay for instant information. While on Hawaii, I took more pleasure and time in eating, drawing, and listening to the world around me. The sunset hue and ice cream smoothness of the papayas I had there were probably worth the plane ticket. 🙂

  5. Hi Jennifer,

    It’s often so different on vacation. Then the question, I find, is how to integrate vacation into life! I hope you find success there. It sounds like such a beautiful time.

  6. onemanswonder

    Love the post, Sandra, but you’re preacin’ to the choir ;~) Too many of us take food for granted and aren’t willing to give much time to its enjoyment.
    I wrote a post some months back about the sensations involved in eating an orange. Definitely nourishing on many levels!

    • I’m glad you get it! I’m part of the choir but I need reminders myself. 🙂 One of the main complaints I hear about eating mindfully is that it takes too long. It does take time so it seems people often prefer to focus on other forms of mindfulness.

  7. Jean Sampson

    Oops, ya caught me red-handed! I eat at the puter all the time! I do eat really well and sometimes I am even glad that I am distracted from some fo the things I drink for my health! 🙂
    Seriously, what I have noticed is that eating outside really increases my tasteability! I don’t know what it is, perhaps something to do with taking in all that fresh air, but food tastes so much better outside! And I don’t take my computer outside or to my studio! That is a GOOD thing! And in one workshop I took a long time ago, we went to a resturant and ate blindfolded! Freaked some people out around us, but, WOW did the food really taste good. So, I think the less you are using your other senses, the better the food tastes.
    A post to make me re-think some of my daily choices! Thanks!

  8. That’s hilarious, Jean! Green drinks come to mind in terms of needing distraction, but there’s a whole menu of healthy possibilities that make my nose cringe!

    That’s a fascinating observation about eating outside. Eating blindfold, that’s an interesting idea! I bet it did freak some people out around you. That is a great option if the point is to enhance taste. Generally, being mindful and aware means not blocking any of the senses or being overfocused so the blindfold wouldn’t quite fit for that purpose. Thanks for all these ideas!

  9. galenpearl

    Well, I can say for one thing that many of your readers think that your blog aids digestion since many of us are reading it while we’re eating! I rarely eat mindfully. My tai chi teacher takes a month long retreat every February. As part of that retreat, he spends a long period in the dark, literally. He shuts all light out of an area and stays in that area for the whole time. He told us about taking two hours to eat something one time, taking each bite slowly and mindfully, and going through the whole process of chewing and swallowing that way before taking another bite. Now that is eating mindfully! After I heard about that, I tried to eat a meal now and then without doing anything else. Not in the dark, but not reading or watching TV. Just sitting with the meal and paying attention. A very different eating experience. http://10stepstofindingyourhappyplace.blogspot.com/

  10. Galen, you are so funny! Gosh, if my blog really aided digestion I could probably make a mint!

    That’s an amazing story about your tai chi teacher. I’ve heard of dark retreats before so it’s not unfamiliar. But it’s so incredible to hear about someone who actually does this. What courage. It probably sounds insane to others. What benefit could come from eating something for two full hours, people probably wonder. But the eating is just the object of medition to help us train to be in the moment and to free our mind from all its constraints. You’ve inspired me greatly with this story, Galen!

    It’s nice to see that you engage in the practice now and then too. Thanks for sharing this story and your experience with us.

  11. Hi Sandra,

    I rarely eat mindfully at meals, especially dinner. That is the time when I am watching my favourite K-drama on TV and laughing. I am the kind of person who eats to live, which probably explains why I am lean despite going to the gym. People usually comment that I have lost weight when I see them haha! I think they imagined me to be bigger than I was.

    The only time that I eat mindfully is during those moments that I am out and eating by myself Without anything to distract me, I focus on my food. Even then, I may be reflecting on some issue. I guess it depends on how cluttered my mind is at the moment.

    I am more likely to eat with awareness when I try something new though. Maybe I should try more new food instead of sticking to my routine choices for efficiency. There are a few new korean dishes I would like to try, when I do, I will be sure to eat with awareness.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! 🙂

    Irving the Vizier

    • Hi Irving,

      I think this is pretty much the score for most of us! If you are laughing while you’re eating, I bet that helps your digestion too! In Chinese medicine, “thinking” is part of digestion. So it does compete with our physical digestion. 🙂 But I do that too. Enjoy the new Korean dishes. Sounds delicious!

  12. Mmm yes. I can’t say anything because I am mesmerized by that lovely picture. I believe I can taste it too! 🙂

  13. jdmeier

    I find the trick for being in the now is to ask myself, “What’s my next best thing to do?” … and do that.

    Whenever I’m torn or rushing through things, it’s inner-conflict of priorities. By resetting my priorities, or clarifying them, I create an instant calm by knowing I’m exactly where I should be, or doing exactly what I should be doing … right here, right now.

    Back in college, I worried about studying while I was playing volley ball. And, while studying, I wanted to play volleyball. I findally put it down on paper and made time in my schedule for both. For the first time, when I studied, I was fully engaged because I knew I had a time and place for volleyball, and when I played volleyball, it was pure fun because I knew I made time for my studies.

    And when I’m fully engaged, I’m more fully aware … and I change my focus by changing questions to help me take a better look around … our senses are powerful tools for soaking up the experience …what do I see? what’s it feel like? what’s it taste like? what’s it smell like?

  14. It’s fascinating to see how you have connected being in the moment with setting priorities and planning. It’s so true that when we create a sense of space for ourselves it’s far easier to relax into the moment. Thanks for showing us precisely how you have master the moment.

  15. Hi Sandra,
    I always eat with awareness as I do enjoy tasting food. I don’t do anything else when I eat, so that might make me an out of norm person these days.
    Very refreshing post, I must say. Well done!

    • Treespirit,

      It’s always refreshing to see an ‘exception’ to the rule when it comes to being mindful. Bravo!

  16. Hi Sandra,
    How often – if ever – do you eat mindfully with full awareness?

    Your article is a timely one for me. I’m still slowly recovering from my bout with Shingles that robbed me of my appetite. I am grateful I do have it back again. I have yet to regain the weight I lost so that I’m mindful about eating right now. These last six months I have been savoring the flavor of food and eating more slowly than I have in past times. When my husband travels I have been making sure I don’t skip meals. When I’m snacking on my deck and reading my book I’m not mindful. But I have lunch and dinner at the table and take my time to appreciate what I’m eating.

    • timethief,

      I’m so happy to hear you have your appetite back! I understand it’s a necessity to be mindful so you don’t lose any more weight; I’ve been in that position too. I’m visualizing you at the perfect weight and savoring your food on your way there!

  17. Hi Sandra, good to see you again. I have a tendency to eat right after I get back from the gym and wolf things down due to my post-exercise hunger. You’ve inspired me to try letting my hunger be as it is and taking in the food slowly and deliberately the next time I’m in that situation. CE

  18. Nice to see you too. Both experiences – eating and hunger – are opportunities for mindfulness. It can be hard not to eat voraciously when we are really hunger. Glad you want to give it a try. Good luck!

  19. I am still learning how to do that but eating mindfully can calm down our overbearing appetite and make us appreciate the food we have and are able to eat. It may also realize how certain foods we think we love, are not really that great at all.

    Also, random sidenote, I nominated your beautiful blog for a Beautiful Blogger Award. You can read details here: http://thejolynproject.com/2012/05/22/give-the-gift-that-keeps-on-giving-beautiful-blogger-award/ Thanks for spreading love and peace.

  20. That’s another wonderful point about eating mindfully…it can help us eat sanely!

    I’m very honored that you have nominated me for the Beautiful Blogger Award. Thank you so much! Thank you for being part of making the world a better place!

  21. You’re welcome! Each one of us should spread love somehow and grateful to see fellow bloggers doing it through writing. 🙂

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