Savor the Spice: How to Practice Mindful Eating this Thanksgiving

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is the act of paying attention to our food, on purpose, moment by moment, without judgment. Read that again. Without judgment. It is an approach to eating that is intentional, sensual (meaning using all 5 senses), and encourages the eater to be fully present throughout their meal. 

Despite what some “lifestyle gurus” will tell you, the purpose of mindful eating is NOT to make you eat slowly so you’ll get full and lose weight. The intention is to allow you to savor the moment and the food. To slow down, notice the process of eating: smell all the delicious scents, admire the colors and textures, feel the food in your mouth, hear the crunch of a bite and taste the flavors on your tongue. 

While this process might seem simple, it is often not simple to do because of all of our beliefs about food and eating. All of the “shoulds” that pop up and cloud our ability to be fully present. 

What are the benefits of mindful eating?

  1. Better Enjoyment – when people are more mindful and intentional while eating, they enjoy their food more and are more satiated at the end of the meal. 
  2. Better Discernment – slowing down to taste food and sense textures, people learn to be more discerning. They begin to realize what food they truly love to eat and become more picky about what they chose to eat. People begin to realize, they eat food “just because it’s there” or “other people are eating it” instead of checking in with their own desires and wants. This way you can choose food because you like it, not because it’s there. 
  3. Better Digestion – Digestion is a slow process that requires a calm, relaxed person. Hence the names: fight or flight and rest and digest. When we are stressed, our bodies don’t digest well because it is not a requirement to survive. It does the bare minimum and keeps moving. However, when we slow down and get present it allows our body the time to do all the important work of digestion and body repair. 

Thanksgiving is a beautiful time to practice mindful eating because it is a day centered around eating. It is a chance to slow down and eat foods you’ve had every year and enjoy or discover you don’t really like some of them. I always recommend getting a little bit of everything, mindfully eating each item, then going back for more of what you really want. AND if that is ALL of it, that’s perfectly fine! If it’s just desserts, totally cool! If it’s only starches, amazing because they are delicious! All of it is ok to eat, but Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to tune into your own tastes and desires. 

How to Get Started: 

Again, mindful eating might sound simple, but if you have a history with disordered eating just the concept can be terrifying. If food is already hard to eat without judgement, slowing down and extending the time with all your difficult feelings can be really tricky. 

So, start small: 

  1. Have Someone Join You – if you have a mental health provider, maybe ask them to eat with you or get a friend who can eat with you. Never underestimate the power of a buddy! 
  2. Time Yourself – time how long it takes you to eat a meal normally, then see if you can extend it by 30 seconds, a minute, a few minutes and grow your tolerance for extended eating time. 
  3. There is no “perfect” – remind yourself there is not a perfect or right way to eat. Mindful eating is a tool, not a rule. Eating mindfully every meal is probably not practical or feasible, so know this is a way to temperature check your tastes. Also, what you like or crave will change, maybe a lot and that is normal. You can’t do this wrong.