If you’ve ever explored mindfulness meditation, even fleetingly, you’ll be aware that to eat mindfully is one of the first things you’re encouraged to do – raisin meditation for example, which involves rolling a raisin between your fingers and then around your mouth for some time.
Meredith Whitely of Food at Heart is a firm exponent of food meditation and has helpfully compiled a list of five ways to eat mindfully below. “Eating mindfully is so important that there are even Zen practices dedicated to it,” she says. “Paying more attention can help you discover new tastes in foods you’ve eaten many times before. It may even encourage you to explore new flavours. Your digestion will also thank you for slowing down. And it really shouldn’t be a chore; tasting with awareness is something that should be pleasurable.”
We wonder how many chefs could benefit from the calming and sensory amplification effects of conscious eating?
These five steps can help you to truly taste your food:
1. A moment of silence
A little quiet can make a big difference. Hide your mobile, turn off your TV, and give some consideration to the food in front of you. This can sometimes be hard, especially when eating is often a very social activity. However it’s worth quieting yourself and your mind, even if just for one snack in a day or a minute before you eat your meal.
2. See, hear
Taste involves a lot more than putting food in your mouth and chewing. Our sight, hearing and touch all have an impact. Involve your different senses in your appreciation of food. What do you observe about the colour and texture? Is the food sizzling or crackling? Maybe even pickup some food and feel it. You may discover a whole new side of a seemingly simple food.
3. Stop and smell the coffee
Breathe in and take a gentle sniff of what’s on your fork. What we often call taste is really a combination of smell and taste, so pay attention to both. We even have two types of smell:
Orthonasal – when we breathe in through our nose and detect odours.
Retronasal – almost like ‘mouth smell,’ as it happens when we chew and breathe out; it’s how we detect aromas. Our tongues look after the taste part, like sweet and salty, but the full flavour hit is down to smell.
4. Chew slowly
Slow down and eat small mouthfuls rather than shovelling in vast amounts of food. Consider the different textures of the food as it breaks down. How about the different flavours being released? Give yourself the time and awareness to detect the aromas of food. You may even decide to let something melt in your mouth and notice how that feels. The experience will be very different to chewing everything quickly.
5. Finish what’s in your mouth
Are you always thinking two bites ahead? Put down your cutlery between mouthfuls and don’t pick it up until you’ve completely finished what’s in your mouth. Enjoy the moment, considering how your mouth feels and any flavours left behind as you finish the food. As well as giving your digestion a slightly easier ride, this should hopefully also help you be more aware of when you are genuinely full.
Some of these steps may feel a bit strange at first, and it might not be realistic to incorporate all of them at every single meal. Play around and find out what works for you. The more you pay attention, the more you’ll discover about the food and flavours you love.