I was raised by Italian-American parents. At our house, every Sunday dinner was a multi-course extravaganza. Family and neighbors and friends sat down to a table laden with pasta, meatballs, chicken, salad, vegetables….
Meals at our house were all about overabundance, just as in all the popular movies where the Italian mother puts food on the table and hollers, “Mangia!” I grew up cleaning my plate at every meal, as I had been taught, and I had the extra padding to show for it. The idea of eating “mindfully” would have been as unthinkable as not sitting down to that Sunday feast.
Today we live in a culture that has sped up to a frenzied pace, and we often fit food in while we’re doing something else. We eat chips from a bag while sitting in front of a television. We inhale a sandwich while checking our email or a burger while driving. To eat mindfully, we need to slow down and pay attention to every bite we put into our bodies. Truly taste what we’re eating and notice its subtle flavors and textures, even sounds. No multitasking—a meal is to be savored.
You eat probably 14 to 21 meals a week. Start small, and try to implement some of these practices some of the time. Why? For one thing, I guarantee you’ll have a greater enjoyment of what you’re eating. For another, you’ll probably eat less. When we scarf down food, we don’t get the signal that we’re full until we’re already past that point. You’ll also have improved digestion and a calm, meditative moment instead of an activity you rush through so that you can move on to the next pressing thing in your day.
I’d like to learn to be present for every bite. I want to be able to pause at each meal—whether it’s a salad grabbed at my desk, date night at a fancy restaurant, or my mom’s macaroni and sauce at a family dinner—and appreciate how food strengthens my body, nourishes my spirit, and has an impact on the world. There are people who give thanks before every meal for the food they’re about to eat. I rarely think about how grateful I am for the food I eat. When you have plenty of something, you’re not likely to think about being thankful for it.
I’ve decided to give myself a challenge for the month of September. I’ve set a goal to pause before one meal each day for a moment of meditation or gratitude before I begin eating. I think that’s a good place to start, and I’ll try to work up from there.
I hope you’ll join me—I need all the support I can get!