Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mindful Eating Exercise

Recently, I visited a spa that prides itself on its mindfulness programming. Activities include physical challenges (that focus on mindfulness), mindful decision-making, mindful communication, mediating, and, of course, eating.

I decided to attend a mindful eating breakfast, craving the experience both for myself and to bring back to my work. So, at 9am on a Saturday morning, I sat down with a couple of other women and began a mindful eating exercise.

We were instructed to visit the restaurant buffet, paying particular attention to all of our senses as we made our food choices. We were instructed not to focus on the "shoulds," but rather on what appealed to us.

I piled food on my plate, paying attention to vibrant color and texture. I stood over the bowl of flax seed for a moment (this is a healthy place!), thinking, "I should probably add some flax seed," but quickly caught myself and headed back to the table to begin the exercise. For the record, I chose some berries, oatmeal, and a vegetarian/cream cheese omelet.

The challenge: For 10 minutes, we were to eat mindfully--to meditate over our food, with awareness, without conversation.

That 10 minutes felt like an eternity.

Have you ever timed how long it takes you to eat breakfast, especially if you're not talking to someone else, watching tv, reading the paper, etc.? I'm guessing most us (myself included) scarf down our food in fewer than 10 minutes. . . and usually with one or more distractions.

So, here's what I learned, as I stared at my plate for 10 minutes, looking at the food, swirling it around with my fork, chewing slowly, paying attention to my appetite, to color, texture, and taste.

1) I don't even like raspberries. They're pretty bitter to me.
2) I really like strawberries. Did you ever notice how evenly dispersed the seeds are? I did!
3) Omelets are kind of plastic in a way I don't particularly enjoy.
4) The texture of oatmeal is much more appealing when I allow it to settle in my mouth, bathing my teeth and tongue in its chewy, little lumps. And, I love, love, love the squishy sound of oatmeal stirred.
5) 10 minutes at a table with several other women is a really long time to go without speaking. We stared at our plates, at our food, but it felt somehow asocial. It made me realized how conditioned we are to communicate, to focus on others (and other things) rather than what we're ingesting.
6) Without these distractions, I easily registered my satiety, putting my fork down at the first sign of fullness.

Have you ever tried an exercise like this? What are your thoughts/feelings about trying?


PalmTreeChick said...

That's very interesting stuff. Perhaps I'll give it a shot some time. I am one that scarfs down my food in about 5 seconds.

azusmom said...

I've tried it in the past, and I keep telling myself that I will do it more often, but it causes HUGE anxiety for me. Not sure why. Something I'm working on.
(I just realized, at about 4:00 this morning, that anxiety is a constant, low-level hum in the background of my life. I've denied it for years, and it's time to accept its presence, and what it is trying to tell me.)

Miss Janey said...

This is a wonderful exercise. Miss Janey tries to do it herself at least once a week. She takes her lunch by herself in an empty conference room at work. She's never added the timing element, but now will.

Here is another oaty taste treat: steel cut oats, chopped almonds and raisins. Amazing mouth-ful textures and tastes...

-Jen- said...

I had to do this once in IP and I hated it. It freaks me out.

PS- I also love that squishy oatmeal sound!

Goblin Market said...

I do this sometimes, I should do it more, but life gets in the way. Which is strange, because I do tend to fixate a lot around food. So really those ten meditative minutes should save a lot of stress; strangely, they don't. My blog is always about food, despite intentions for it to be about other things.

Leslie said...

This sounds so interesting to me and something I would like/need to try. I actually just scarfed down dinner - salmon, green beans and rice. As I was eating it, basketball on TV, reading a magazine, I literally thought to myself "I just swallowed that green bean without even chewing it." Ok maybe I chewed once, but not enough to enjoy the marinade or the texture and taste of the fish, for that matter. I really need to slow down and enjoy more often. Dr. Stacey - what was the name of the spa? Do you mind sharing?

Anonymous said...

I agree with azusmom, it'd cause anxiety for me too. I kind of feel like, any second I'm not watching over my food a fly could land on there and ewwwww. So maybe in that respect, I do spend more time looking at my food than most people do.

Also my mom really is a speedy eater, she's always joking about having to wait for me at resturants.

Emily Jolie said...

I love the insights you gained from this exercise! I would have loved to be there and do it with you! I personally actually really like flaxseeds, so you wouldn't have had to twist my arm to put them on my plate. :) I put ground flaxseeds in my yogurt or my fruit shakes all the time, and I love the nutty flavor and texture it adds.

I do love savoring my food slowly and appreciating the various flavors and textures. I will admit, though, that I often sit in front of my computer or even the TV while I'm eating. Not at all ideal according to Chinese Medicine. If you are using your brainpower while eating by reading, watching TV, or engaging in overly stimulating conversation, more blood flow will go to your brain and less to your gut.

Thanks for sharing your experience, Dr. Stace!

with love,


Debbie said...

Being honest, I actually avoid being mindful while I eat. I look forward to eating mindlessly, spacing out, putting spoonfuls into my mouth as I read. It's like going into a void. An escape. But of course, the result is often a complete disconnect once the plateful is finished. I control my caloric intake not so much by my satiety in the moment, but by appropriate portion sizes. And I don't get seconds. It's not such a zen method, but I feel really weird even thinking about giving it up. I guess it's my comfort zone.

Sarah said...

wow. . . I am surprised at how anxious thinking about trying this made me! That makes me think it's probably important to try.


Anonymous said...

Honestly after having an eating disorder for at this point almost 20 years more or less actively, even reading about this made me have to put my head between my knees.

psychsarah said...

I love your description of being mindful. I try to teach mindfulness to my clients (I'm a psychologist too) particularly anxious ones, and we often start with food, because its such a sensory experience. One day we spent 3 minutes mindfully touching, smelling, tasting, ans swallowing a single raisin. Fascinating the stuff you'll notice about a raisin when you have to sit there and think about it for three whole minutes! (It felt like an eternity!)

That said, I'm terrible about putting this into practice with my own eating-I always have the TV on at my house, if only for noise when I'm home alone, and otherwise my husband and I talk throughout dinner. Sitting there with my food and no distractions is just a foreign concept to me. Even when I was a kid, I would read the side of the cereal box while eating breakfast!

Emily Jolie said...

Oh, I did that, too!! I would read the side of the cereal box over and over again. Or the milk carton. Whatever was there. What is it about that? Do we constantly need something to occupy our minds? Is it distraction from focusing on our food that we are looking for?

Ok, this will sound funny and may be WAY too much information, but I like (need?) to read when I'm going to the bathroom, as well. If there is nothing else around, I will pick up a tube of toothpaste or a shampoo bottle and read the list of ingredients while I sit there. Somehow it seems to help... I must not be alone in this need, as people often keep magazines and newspapers near their toilets.

Thanks for getting me thinking!


Anonymous said...

I think it's strange that you commented on how we're "condititioned we are to communicate" as if it's a bad thing. Food is generally a VERY social issue, and actually I adore that. eating is like breathing, it should come "naturally" instead of something you've got to concentrate on.

Anonymous said...

after almost five years of having an ED, i simply cannot concentrate on my food. tv is the best distraction. i spend so much time obssessing, analyzing, and thinking about food all day. when it comes to actually eating it, i'd much rather zone out. if i was forced to concentrate on my food, i'd have an anxiety attack and never eat anything. at restaurants, if i can't dominate a conversation and focus on other things, then i cry, ignore my food or ruin my mood with anxiety.

Neal said...

I'm taking a Group Dynamics class as a prereq for graduate work in mental health counseling. I'm a man with a history of disordered eating (anorexia, compulsive overeating/food addiction), and for a class project I'm designing a mindful eating support group specifically for men. I'd love to get your feedback on this; I can send more details if you're interested. Thanks for a great post!

Neal Schindler