Sitting at my desk and halfway into my California roll ($3.49 at Trader Joe’s, thank you very much), I took an abrupt, guilty pause. I was frantically pressing Ctrl-T on repeat while scrolling through the New York Times’ Health page, hoping for a spark of inspiration to strike for the blog post I typically write on Sunday nights (procrastinating until the last possible moment it’s due for a Monday time slot).
The pause came from a February 14th article, if you can even call it that. The title: “How to be Mindful While Eating Chocolate.”
Now, mindful eating is something I am aware of (tongue-in-cheek wording not intended). One of my favorite books is actually called Mindless Eating, a book I return to every few years. The author, Brian Wansink, discusses dozens of food-related studies that you’ve no doubt seen quoted in countless articles and posts, with fascinating findings like yes, the size of your plate can influence how hungry you are, and actually, the music and lighting in a restaurant can absolutely affect how much you eat and how much you enjoy it.
And I’ve been through the beginner’s guide to meditation, thoroughly enjoying the Headspace 10-day intro and various meditation soundtracks during the Whole Life Challenge. It’s something I think about when I’m out walking on my lunch break and actively trying to notice the world around me without going nose-first into my phone spring; it’s a point of focus for me when I’m doing a sprint interval and counting my breaths to carry me through to the recovery period.
But when eating? That’s when the sushi situation comes in.
As I write this, I’ve had three out of eight of my sushi rolls. I couldn’t tell you much about the first three at all, except that I know brown rice was on the outside and I definitely can still taste the soy sauce in my mouth. But according to Dr. Michelle May, “Mindful eating is eating with intention, attention and awareness.” Read: not scarfing food down at your desk while multi-tasking.
You might be like me in that you have your daily eating down to a semi-science: same food for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner, with occasional switch-ups for social events. Or maybe you’re constantly on-the-go and you grab whatever’s quick, easy and convenient for you at that moment, eating while you run to your next appointment.
Unfortunately, this type of mindless behavior might be sucking the enjoyment out of eating, one of the simplest pleasures we have. And if you take the enjoyment out of eating, chances are your meal is way less satisfying and you’re more likely to eat later on, either because you’re still hungry or because you didn’t listen to your body and eat what you’re actually craving. Even if you put a lot of time and thought into meal prep for the week, eating in a rush without giving your food some attention could backfire on you when you eat your next scheduled meal without actually stopping to think: am I even hungry?
The solution? Consciously thinking through each meal, from prep, to plating, to eating, to swallowing.
For my sad-desk dinner, I adapted the New York Times’ meditation for eating chocolate and applied it to my current grocery-store sushi situation. I selected my fourth sushi roll, an oval-shaped roll made of brown rice and rolled in sesame seeds, already doused in amber-colored soy sauce. I noticed that I could see two juicy hunks of crab, a tiny triangle of a carrot, and a little nub of an avocado ensconced in the seaweed wrap. I turned my attention away from my screen for a moment (mindful eating advocates are big on eating without distractions so you can truly pay attention to your food), and pierced the roll with my fork (I am not a chopsticks ninja by any means).
Naturally, the roll disintegrated because nobody said mindful eating was easy. However, I used the opportunity to slowly chew all the separate bites that had fallen apart, noticing the texture of the sticky rice and the taste of the crab. I ended up chewing thoughtfully for about a minute – so basically ten times longer than the last roll I chowed down on.
My goal for the week ahead is to practice mindful eating at least once per day (maybe even trying out the NYT’s coffee meditation here), and then notice whether it makes me enjoy my meal more and how long I stay full afterwards, taking notes in my bullet journal so I can reflect when the week is done. Try it with me – you might be surprised at how much better food tastes when you’re not shoveling it into your mouth as quickly as possible between opening tabs. I know my $4 sushi already tastes more satisfying.