The Five Contemplations
Eating mindfully can go a long way and has the power to impact the way you feel, how your body reacts to external threats, and even how you relate to others.
We can practice mindful eating by reflecting on key question that enable us to increase taste, enjoyment, and satiety. These key questions are known as the five contemplations, which you can practice while eating. Practising this exercise will encourage you to stop and think about the food you are eating, become more present and connected with yourself, leading to a relaxed state of mind and better nutrient absorption. On your next meal think of the following questions:
- What am I eating?
- Why am I eating this?
- Where does this food come from?
- When have I chosen to eat this food/meal?
- How am I eating this food?
This practice requires you to think about the story behind your food, its source, and the process it went through to reach you. So, for example, when reflecting about where does your food come from, imagine the amount of work that was necessary to grow, process and transport the ingredients. What kind of preparation or cooking might have been involved in the making of your meal?
When reflecting about why are you eating, you can ask yourself: are you really hungry? Are you eating out of anxiety, boredom or to hide other feelings? You should have in mind that food is a biological need and a means of healing your body and without it you are more prone to illness. However, food is more than that. The process of eating can enable us to be more present, to connect with others, and is a key factor on our physical and emotional wellbeing. Other ways in which we can achieve this is by enjoying our food in key settings or times. For example, during teatime, or while we have a meal with our family or friends, while we enjoy a meal on the outdoors or by ourselves.
Drinking a cup of something warm is a great way to practice mindfulness and nurture your body, mind, and soul. Dedicating time for a break, a good conversation, or simply a time to sit by yourself can help focus your mind on the present moment. Many people use tea as a ritual to find some peace in moments of stress. While preparing and drinking your tea use your five senses to potentiate the feeling of being present and enjoyment. Listen carefully to the pouring sound of the tea into your cup, smell and try to identify the various scents emanating from your tea, observe the delicate colour of your drink and feel the temperature and taste of the different notes in your palette.
Sometimes having a meal with your family or friends seems like a luxury that might only be feasible on holidays. Other times it’s just a matter of readjusting your schedule to make time for what matter most. Enjoying your meal with good company can be a great for your digestion and your mental health. Good mealtime conversation can also slow down the rate at which you eat so you can notice when you feel satisfied. Eating becomes more than a physiological act — It becomes a social act which can also benefit our health and wellbeing.
A date with nature
Try treating yourself to a meal outdoors. A picnic or a view of nature can help you experience food at a different level. Feel your surroundings and observe the effect of the wind, light and nature sounds on your senses. The effect of nature may help you intensify the taste of your food. Doing this can help you become more relaxed and in tune with your inner self. Scientific research indicates that feeling relaxed while eating may benefit your digestion and make nutrient absorption more efficient.
Schedule some alone time
Enjoying a meal on your own may allow you to concentrate more easily on the taste, texture, temperature, smells, and attributes that characterise your food. Also, making quality time to be on you own can facilitate a deeper reflection on how you feel which may allow a better connection with yourself and your food.
Eating is a great time to be mindful. It allows us to reconnect with ourselves, nature, and our loved ones. These connections help us be more present, increase our food enjoyment, our satiety and even nutrient absorption. On your next meal remember to think about the five contemplations and observe how you feel and see what happens overtime.
Elisa Pineda is a certified yoga instructor with more than 10 years of teaching experience. She is also a doctor in epidemiology and public health and holds a PhD in spatial epidemiology and public health nutrition from UCL. She currently works at Imperial College London at the School of Public Health and the Centre for health Economics and Policy Innovation where she researches about food policies and their impact on health and sustainability.