For many people, Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day feels different than other times in the year.
It often includes the most opportunities to eat and drink socially, opportunities we may wish would never end, or may wish would end sooner.
Mindfulness practices, or practicing awareness without judgment, invite us to notice our behaviors in a new way. Mindfulness-based stress reduction has been effective as complementary care for many health conditions. Mindfulness-based eating programs have been effective in treating obesity.
This article will teach you two mindfulness-based eating practices. The first will take approximately 10 minutes, the second is one you can do while eating.
For the first practice, choose something small that will not dissolve immediately in your mouth. A raisin, an almond, or a cashew is the right size.
Choose one of these or something that you have handy and follow these instructions. If you do this with someone else, avoid speaking until you are finished.
- Begin by looking at the group of these items in whatever container they are in. Notice what you see when looking at a bowlful or bagful.
- Intentionally select one piece from the rest, grasping it between your thumb and forefinger. Notice what you sense in your fingers and elsewhere in your body.
- Next, get a feel for the object in your hands. Use your senses of sight, touch, and smell.
- Then, feel your arm move, as you raise the edible object to your lips. Hold it between your lips and notice any sensations at the spot of the edible and anywhere else in your body.
- Next, move the edible to the middle of your tongue and let it rest there for a few breaths. Does it feel the same as when it was in your hand? Different? Do you want to quickly chew and swallow? If so, see if you can let the urge pass.
- Put the edible between an upper and lower tooth, and hold it there for a breath or two while observing what you sense and what changes in your body.
- As you breathe out, squeeze the item one time. Resist any urge to swallow. Notice the change in the object, the change in your sensation. Take a few breaths to do this. Repeat this process a few more times.
- When you are ready, swallow everything that is in your mouth. See what it feels like as it moves down your throat to your stomach.
Notice what you have learned and seen. Were there surprises by giving it this kind of attention? If you found this experience interesting, you also could try it with a whole meal (if you have the time!).
The second eating practice does not take extra time, just more deliberate action and concentration. This approach can slow down any racing of your mind when eating and even slow down your eating. The goal is to appreciate the food you eat while you are eating it.
Take a moment to consider how each item made its way to your plate. Notice your breath while eating – notice each breath in your nostrils, chest, and abdomen, and appreciate the fact that you are breathing and eating.
Notice how your breath cycle correlates to your eating – note on which part of your breath cycle you put food on your fork, when you chew, and when you swallow. Perhaps decide to chew only as you breathe out, like in the first practice.
Watch for the next part of this series, which will address how to apply what you have practiced toward reducing weight and improving your health.
Dr. Arthur Hoffman, MPH, practices Internal Medicine at Rosalind Franklin University Health System. To learn more about mindfulness-based stress reduction or eating programs, contact Dr. Hoffman at (847) 473-4357.