What if you could smell, taste, see and feel the difference between healthy and unhealthy eating? Is that possible?
For many people, myself included, if I’m eating in a rush or under stress, and if I eat fast food or a dessert, I usually notice some form of a reaction shortly after eating.
You may experience symptoms like indigestion, bloating, a headache from too much caffeine or sugar, or your body will tell you, “That’s enough of that!”
Let’s look at how you can use some of your senses to improve and dictate healthier, more mindful eating choices. Essentially, let’s learn how to savour the experience of eating.
Look at your food.
Your eyes will tell your brain what’s in front of you, and your intellect, as well as your intuition, knows if what you’re about to eat is good or bad for you.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have the “bad food.” We all need to have a treat now and then, but be aware of your choices, especially if you’ve been making less-than-healthy choices more than often.
What does your meal smell like?
Does it smell like greasy fast food? Does it smell rich and creamy? Does it smell fresh? Are there herbs and spices in there? Can you smell the olive oil, the aroma of the grilled meat? Does it make your mouth water in anticipation or could you care less?
Our olfactory sense (our sense of smell) helps us to know when something has gone bad or might be questionable. For example, how do you react when you smell milk that’s long past its expiry date? Our brain recognizes that “irksome” smell of soured milk and we usually react physically, scrunching up our face in disgust.
Smell is also pleasurable.
For example, do you enjoy a fine glass of wine? When you go out to dinner, what happens when the sommelier comes over to your table? What’s the ritual with a bottle of wine?
When you order a bottle you treat it with respect. Once uncorked, the waiter pours the smallest amount into your glass. You hold the glass at the stem and swirl the wine around the glass to aerate it and open up the flavour.
Next, you tilt the glass towards you, dip your nose into the glass and take a long breath in. You savour the aromas noticing hints of oak, cherry, spices, and so on.
Finally, you take a small sip. You let it sit on your tongue and then swirl it around the inside of your mouth to coat your palette and notice all the different flavours. You swallow in satisfaction and nod at the waiter to fill the glass.
So why do we so rarely give our food the same intense level of respect, of time, of conscious awareness?
If you inhale your food you will taste very little of it and that’s problematic for a number of reasons.
We need to chew our food
First, when we chew we are breaking down the food in the mouth into small enough portions to swallow and to aid in digestion.
Secondly, we release saliva when we chew that starts breaking down food in our mouth before we swallow.
Lastly, chewing communicates to the body to start producing stomach acid and to expect incoming food.
Chewing slowly and mindfully assists with digestion. The better you chew the more easily and efficiently your stomach can break down your meal for absorption.
When you eat slowly the result is that you will taste your food and have a better sense if it’s good for you. You’ll savour every bite of that greasy fast food burger with too much salt, or linger on a more nutritious, homemade meal.
When you slow down long enough to taste the food in your mouth you trigger awareness. Pay attention to how you chew and let the flavours of your food mingle on your tongue. Enjoy and notice the different flavours: salty, sweet, sour, or spicy.
If you eat too fast you might cause gastric discomfort and force your body to work harder to break down large chunks of food in your stomach.
If you eat too fast and under stress you might as well not eat at all.
When you’re stressed your body is in fight or flight mode. Under high stress the body slows down the pumping of blood into places like the stomach, and prioritizes the extremities, in preparation for quick flight or action.
We evolved with this fight or flight mechanism to survive being eaten by predators larger and faster than us. However, in our modern world, the predators are the business world, our customers, our boss, our family or children. When they come down hard on us and we stress out, we ready ourselves to fight or flee.
When that happens, don’t eat!
Take the time to calm down first. Do what you need to do to get there. You can practice slow, deep breathing for 60 seconds. Jump up and down or jump rope for 60 seconds (who cares if you’re in a suit). This simple and short exercise will help dissipate the high-stress energy.
Then take some deep “Buddha-belly” breaths. Sit down, chest up and back flat, feet firmly on the ground. Close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply for 4-8 seconds to fully expand your belly. Hold for a second or two and exhale as slowly as possible. Completely evacuate all the air from your lungs. Do this 2-4 more times.
Come back to normal breathing. How do you feel? Better? Awesome! Now, go eat, but eat slowly and mindfully.
Notice how you feel and what you are aware of while eating slowly. How do you feel during and after eating? How is this different from how you usually eat?
The practice of eating slowly and mindfully is not about right or wrong. Instead, it’s about increasing your awareness with a side effect of improving your health.
If you’re eating while reading this, put down your fork and finish eating what’s in your mouth. Then, turn off all your devices and commit to taking 5 minutes to eat slowly and mindfully.
Eat well to be well