Mindful Eating Meditation
Perhaps picking up a small piece of fruit, like a raisin, a fresh grape or berry, or a wedge of apple or orange.
Trying a thought experiment, imagining that you have just arrived on this planet from outer space and you have never seen anything like this before.
Just looking. Looking at this amazing object, without needing to know its name. Spending time just seeing color, shape, form. Noticing the differences between the different parts of it.
Just beginning to experience the sense of touch. Feeling it with the fingers, noticing the contours, the textures, the weight.
Beginning to listen, holding it up to your ear and seeing if there is a sound. Seeing if a sound is produced by rubbing or tapping the object next to the ear.
Bringing awareness to the causes and conditions and people that created this moment. What happened that brought this object to your hand? Who touched it?
Holding it up to the nose and smelling, noticing the sensations. Noticing what happens in the mouth, what happens in the belly, what happens in the mind.
Gently savoring it in the mouth without biting. And biting down once and noticing what happens.
Reflecting on what you noticed when you awakened your senses in this way.
Welcome. You have now joined the world-wide community of people who have eaten one raisin mindfully. This practice is the first one we teach in Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction. And now what? What would it be like to continue to check in with this raisin as it makes its descent into your body? Or continuing to lovingly notice your mood and energy over the next day or two? How does this raisin affect your brain health?
It wasn't until my digestion got really upset, most likely in the recurrence of a travel-related infection, that I realized that digestion was really a thing. After I complete the process of putting the food in my mouth, I am still eating! My body is continuing its relationship with the food I have given it. Perhaps I can sit and relax for a moment after the mouth part of my eating is done to let the belly part of my eating continue.
So can we check in again with our raisin in the belly? As she moves down into the body, she is not alone. Perhaps in part because we are far from our ancestral foodways of eating in tribes and communities, we can feel restless when eating alone. We can even feel restless when eating with others, wanting to add reading, television, or electronics to our meal. And yet we are never really alone.
Recent research reveals that there are more bacteria in your gut then there are stars in the galaxy.
Yuck! you may think. These bugs sound dirty, like infection and illness. Yet we are beginning to understand that these bacteria are essential to multiple aspects of being a human being, especially digestion and mental health.
We have similar numbers microbial to human cells cells in the body, and 500 times more microbial DNA than human DNA.
"Each animal is an ecosystem with legs,” says microbiome researcher John Rawls.
Research out of the University of Rouen in France has shown that our gut bacteria have their own cravings. I began to imagine them hanging out in my belly, placing their orders with the waiter, putting in requests. I felt a whole new sense of responsibility. I was taking care of not only myself, but my community. And I was the only one of us with access to a fork!
My mindful eating teacher Jan Chozen Bays, MD said the other day that since many of us, especially people who are socialized as female, tend to take care of others more than we take care of ourselves, perhaps remembering that we are nourishing countless others by eating will increase self-care. Since it's no longer only self-care, we could think of it as community care.
As you continue to mull over the journey of your raisin friend, you might consider turning down the volume of your electronics and sending some lovingkindness to your bacterial community. You can thank them for digesting your food for you that you would not be able to digest on your own. You can thank them for signaling between the brain and the gut, which is being called the second brain.
One of the most challenging aspects of bringing our awareness to eating is that for many of us, as individuals and societies, paying attention to food comes with an enormous wallop of self-criticism and judgment. We learn best when the nervous system is relatively relaxed and open. So I invite you to bring this attention in moments after you've practiced some meditation or yoga already or you feel yourself naturally in a state of some self-compassion. Collaborating with a mindfulness teacher, therapist, or mindful group or community can be an important resource in this process.
What would it be like to choose the foods you eat out of a motivation to love and protect all of the members of your microbial community? Which foods do you intuitively feel might support a community that has been around long before the time of your oldest human ancestors?
Can you listen to the messages from the friends in your gut?
Leslie Korn, my wonderful nutrition mental health teacher, suggests to ask yourself two questions. What are the foods that make me feel well? And what are the foods that don't make me feel so well? The "old friends" in your gut will let you know.
Enjoy the discoveries you make in eating with the stars in the galaxy of your belly.
Originally published in Revolutionary Wellness Magazine, see page here.
I Contain Multitudes: the Microbes within Us and a Grander View of Life, Ed Yong, 2016
French researchers from the University of Rouen quoted in The Swift Diet, Kathie Madonna Swift, 2014
The Good Mood Kitchen: Simple Recipes and Nutrition Tips for Emotional Balance, Dr. Leslie Korn, 2017
Eat Right, Feel Right: 50 Recipes and Tips to Improve Mood, Sleep, Attention and Focus, Dr. Leslie Korn, 2017
Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health: A Complete Guide to the Food-Mood Connection, Leslie Korn, 2016
Mindful Eating, Jan Chozen Bays, M.D., 2009