How to Eat: A Guide To Mindful Eating

As an Organic Soul reader recently brought up to me over email, “One thing that I have not seen covered on the internet, or even in books, is this – how to eat food…This is not what to eat or when, but how.” At first, I was taken aback by the seemingly simple notion of how to eat: don’t we all know how to eat? But with further consideration, it struck me that the reader was exactly right.

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Sure, we all know what eating is; in fact, it seems a straightforward process. Find food, put in mouth, chew, and swallow (oh, and stop when you’re full). While this may be the notion many of us get into our head when thinking about meals, it’s far too simplistic and a bit erroneous.

Instead, let's get focused and break down “how to eat” – all the way from science to situation.

The (Scientific) Process of Eating

Food makes a journey in our body, and it’s a serious one no doubt. After we get past just how the food ends up on our plate, we have to understand what happens the second we put it in our mouth. That seems like a good place to start:

Mastication – ever heard of it? I first encountered the transitive (and sometimes intransitive) verb when having dinner with a friend and his parents. “I can’t help but hear you masticate,” the father said to the son. In this context, it might be more common to hear “Don’t chew with your mouth open.” The word stuck with me, as did the lesson.

Defined like a dictionary, mastication involves “chewing, tearing, or grinding food with the teeth while it becomes mixed with saliva.” Here, saliva – full of digestive enzymes – along with chewing, softens, breaks down, and even lubricates food. Remember, proper mastication is very important (something we’ll speak to with the way to eat section below). Then, after we masticate, we swallow. This involves some very complex work on the part of our throats; put simply, we press the food into the pharynx, the throat pulls the food down, and the pharynx then propels the food into the esophagus. Ta-da! Swallowed!

While moving through the esophagus, mucus helps the food travel with ease all the way down to stomach. Since that’s about the time we forget about “eating” and then begin to think about “digesting”, let’s stop there.

The Way to Eat

“…Eat to be fed, not full.”

With the science under our belt, we can turn to technique. Eating well – in regards to style, not diet – can be a difficult thing, but regardless of the difficulty, it’s something we all can do.

First, before you start your meal, consider what it is exactly you’re eating. Is it a bowl of rice and sushi? Maybe a turkey burger? Whatever it is, you’ll have to consider your strategy right from the start. Ask yourself questions like, “What are my utensils? Where should I start? And  can I eat all of this?”

Next, get yourself in position. It’s always good to have proper dining etiquette, or at least a napkin nearby. Whatever the choice, get yourself and your body prepared for what’s ahead. After you’re prepped, cut or focus on smaller, bite-sized pieces.  They do, after all, call them bite size for a reason: that’s about how much you want per bite.

Once the food is in your mouth, slowly chew it. Avoid inhaling your food – it hurts to do, both in regards to input and output. Remember, this is food you’re eating. Enjoy it. Besides, there can be something very spiritual about eating. In fact, our reader mentioned his spiritual connection to me over email. He prays before eating to prevent evil from making its way into the body and he breaks between each bite to thank God. Some might say this adds an unnecessarily religious overtone to the story, but even a secular person such as myself can appreciate the thought and effort put into the practice, religious or not.

Finally, swallow your food with ease. Let it slide down the throat, as it should. With that, you’ve successfully taken your first bite of a new, balanced eating style.

For ease, here are some cardinal rules of eating:

  • Eating is not a race. Take your time, enjoy your food, and take each bite one at a time. This makes sense; during your meal, make conversation with friends or loved ones.
  • Eat to be fed, not full. It takes time for your brain to get the ‘full’ signal, so stop when you feel good, not “stuffed.”
  • Chew your food. Seriously. The more you break down your food during mastication, the easier the rest of process goes.
  • Feel free to drink while you eat…maybe. While there is some debate over this, Dr. Michael Picco over at Mayo Clinic argues that, “Water and other liquids help break down the Pin Itfood in your stomach and keep your digestive system on track.” Although Dr. Picco may be right, it’s prudent to remember that everyone’s stomach is different and may have different sensitivities. Some people find it suitable to minimize or even cut out liquids during meals. Whatever works for you!
  • Enjoy it – some might say there is difference between eating and feeding, and I’d be inclined to agree with that distinction.

In closing, I’d like to thank our readers for the great comments, notes, and ideas you send over to us. Without your attention, we wouldn’t have stories like this.

For that, we thank you! Bon appétit!

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