Making Meals a 5-Star Experience in Mindfulness

By Emily Fletcher

All of us want to make smart decisions around food … but then the dessert menu comes.

We plan on eating clean for the day but then we get “busy”, so we end up grabbing lower-quality foods to eat on the go as opposed to preparing a balanced meal. We’re stressed at work, so we reach into the candy dish without even thinking about it. We’re at a holiday party where food is everywhere, so we eat way past the point of feeling full because we get caught up in the excitement of it all.

There is no one size fits all strategy, and I hate rules as much as the next gal. But learning to enjoy every single bite of food that we take can make a huge difference in our health and happiness.

According to Ayurveda, the state of consciousness that you are in when you are eating is more important than the food itself.  If you are going to eat the gummy bears at the movie theatre, make a conscious decision to enjoy them. Savor them. Guilt is a useless emotion. If you are already guilty and stressed about the food when you are eating it then you compound the effects.  If you savor and enjoy and really take the time to see, taste, touch and smell every bite then your body will have a 5 sensory experience of the ‘indulgence” and feel satiated more quickly, which may prevent the second pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

So I’d like to share a brief exercise you can do next time you go out to eat to help you eat more consciously and make decisions that are moving you towards your mental and physical goals.

I call this the Per Se Technique.

Per Se is a restaurant in NYC that I dreamed about going to when I was an unemployed actress in NYC in my twenties.  I had heard extravagant tales of the seven-course tasting menu. People shared stories of the butter that comes from cows that only provide grass-fed organic milk to this one restaurant. The way they shave fresh truffles onto your plate in front of you and send you home with a printed menu of everything you enjoyed that night. Needless to say, this restaurant is not cheap, and I didn’t know if I would ever be able to afford it.

Long story short, I had a banner month and decided that the thing that would make me happier than anything else would be to treat my husband and two best friends to this once in a lifetime experience. You can’t take the money with you when you die, right?

This meal was something I had fantasized about for over a decade so I wanted to be sure I enjoyed every second.  Below is the technique that helped me, and I hope you can use it next time you go out to eat to keep you in the now and to make sure you enjoy every bite. If you treat every meal like it is from an expensive restaurant, it is easier to slow down and enjoy.

Before you head out on the town take a moment to check in with your body. How hungry are you? What is your body asking for? Do you need some greens? Something warm? Something easy to digest? Are you craving good fats?

It is hard to hear the body’s whispering intuition once we see the shiny menu in front of us.

Once you arrive, order a cup of hot water. The heat from the water will bring blood to your gut and away from your brain. This will allow you to make a more intuitive decision when ordering.

Once the food arrives, “Come to Your Senses”.

This is a simple exercise you can do anytime you eat but it’s especially important when eating out with friends, as it is possible to get so wrapped up in the conversation that you ignore your food as you shovel it into your face. Then your gut is full but your eyes and nose and taste buds feel robbed.  

Before you take your first bite, take a moment to bless your food.  This may mean giving thanks, this may mean imagining how far the food has come from, or even all the people that helped bring the food to your table. This act of giving thanks is simple but powerful enough to change your mindset before you begin.  There is a reason every culture in the history of ever says grace before meals.

When you are ready to begin eating first, enjoy the food with your eyes.  Really see it. How many colors are there? Can you see the steam? Which item looks best to you?

Then smell it.  Lean in, our sense of smell enhances the taste experience.  See if you can even taste the food with your nose.

Now take your first bite and notice the tactile sensation in your mouth. How does it feel? Is it hot? Cold? Rich?

Now move on to the sense of taste. This may seem overly simple, but when is the last time you really let something sit on your tongue to decipher the complexity of taste sensations? Pretend you are a sommelier describing a wine and see how many different tasting notes you can detect.

After you have really allowed this first bite to be a multi-sensory experience, then swallow. Notice the sensations as the food travels to your belly. Does it feel warm? Does your body react well to the food? If not, there is still time to order something else. If so then continue to enjoy a few more bites as if each one is from the most expensive restaurant you have ever dined at.  

After a few bites, you can return your attention to your date. Chances are they will enjoy watching you get so much pleasure out of the meal.

Once you are nearing the end, check-in with yourself. I’m guessing that you’d want to feel satiated, but not stuffed or sluggish. If you are full but don’t want to waste anything, ask for a to-go box. It can be very easy to keep eating just because the food is there, but gently remind yourself that the chef didn’t create the portion with your body’s unique needs in mind. When you feel pleasantly full, it’s ok to stop. But that doesn’t mean that the experience is over. Once again, turn your attention to your company, and realize that your enjoyment of the evening doesn’t need to end with your last bite.

Using the Per Se technique increases the pleasure that you get from eating while also helping you to listen to your body. The more you respect your body, the better your relationship with it gets, which makes you want to treat it even better. It’s a delicious upward cycle.

This article originally appeared on mindbodygreen. 

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