When was the last time you truly appreciated a meal? Not just how it tasted, but the way it looked, smelled and felt, and even what it sounded like? If these questions seem odd, consider this: Paying more attention to all five senses as you eat helps you enjoy your food more and avoid overeating.
“Food is one of our chief sources of pleasure as human beings,” says Jan Chozen Bays, M.D., an Oregon doctor, Zen priest and author of Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship With Food. “Unfortunately, people seem to have gotten out of balance with that pleasure.” All too often, we eat without thinking. Not only is that habit not much fun, but it can also make us consume more than we need or even really want. “If you don’t savor your food as you eat it,” Bays explains, “you’re actually going to want more,” which can lead to unhealthy bingeing.
The next time you sit down for a meal, trying paying closer attention to the different ways it satisfies your senses:
“The eyes are nourished by color and form, so take a moment to look at the food and appreciate it as an art object,” Bays says. A salad can be particularly nice to look at, she adds, with its variety of colors, textures and shapes.
“Most of what we call ‘taste’ actually has to do with how a food smells,” Bays says. When she leads workshops on mindful eating, “I ask people to pause and just lean down and sniff.” Bays admits this probably isn’t appropriate behavior in every situation, but a discreet sniff of your food can awaken your appetite.
“The ear is stimulated by hearing about food,” Bays says, which is why a friend’s description of an amazing meal can make you hungry. We also tend to expect certain foods to make certain sounds, and to enjoy them more when they meet that expectation.
“The mouth loves different tastes, but it also loves changing sensations and changes in texture,” Bays explains. Satisfying your sense of taste means paying attention to all of these qualities. Because you can’t do that if you’re multitasking, Bays suggests taking three bites of whatever is on your plate and savoring each one. Then put your fork down for a moment, talk to your dinner companion (or even check your e-mail if you’re eating at your desk). Then return your attention to the food and take three more bites. Voila: You’re eating mindfully.
As you pay attention to how a food feels in your mouth, don’t forget to consider how it feels in your stomach. “A lot of people have learned to ignore what the stomach is trying to tell them. They don’t notice any sensation between ‘I’m starving’ and ‘I’m stuffed,’” Bays says. Pausing periodically during a meal and asking yourself, “How full am I now?” can help you avoid that overloaded feeling.