I sit down at the dining room table. I look out at the garden, and I notice the morning sun just touching the buttery frangipani flowers on the tree outside. In front of me on the table is a beautiful hand-made bowl with a scoop of chocolate ice cream, a tumble of shiny, plump purple and red summer berries, and a soft white dollop of coconut cream. Next to the bowl, the steam is rising from my coffee cup.
Yes, I am having “ice cream” for breakfast! It’s basically a frozen smoothie and it has some healthy stuff in it (my recipe is at the bottom of this page), although it could have been anything else I fancied this morning, or it could have been any other meal…
I scoop a bit of ice cream and a cherry onto my spoon and put it in my mouth. I feel how the ice cream melts. The cherry bursts as I bite down on it and it tastes tart against the sweet, creaminess of the ice cream. I chew, then swallow this cool juiciness. Next I take a sip of my black coffee. The warm liquid is such a contrast after the cold ice cream. The taste left behind after I swallow the coffee, is a rich combination of sweet, sour and bitter.
I savour each bite, aware of the taste, texture, smell, sound and look of this meal. This is an experience in mindful eating*.
I didn’t always eat like this. Like many other people, I used to wolf down my meals mindlessly – whether sitting down or on the run – maybe noticing the first bite and recognising it as delicious, but then before I knew it: poof – the meal had gone! And I was sometimes left dissatisfied and wanting more, but often feeling uncomfortable because I’d eaten too much.
I have since learned that taking time to involve the senses and the conscious mind in the eating experience not only increases the pleasure of a meal, but it also aids digestion and helps us avoid overeating! The cephalic (or head) phase of digestion is a vital and quite substantial component of our entire digestion process. Digestion starts when we see, smell and think about food. So involving the senses in a mindful way prompts or encourages the full digestive response. Because we are consciously aware of our eating experience, we are also more likely to notice when we are full. This means that we will feel satisfied with what we have eaten, and we tend not to want more (unless we truly need more) or eat too much. This is the body’s natural appetite regulator!
When I explain the science part of eating more mindfully to clients, they find it quite acceptable, but talking about the “pleasure” part can actually be quite scary. Pleasure is not a safe idea for people who have been doing battle with food and their bodies for a long time. I used an exercise called “Mindfulness and the Art of Chocolate Eating” (watch a video about it here or find a script for the exercise here) with a Mind Body Food group I was working with last year. The exercise involves handing each participant a small piece of good quality chocolate in a wrapper, and guiding them through a meditative process of unwrapping and eating the piece of chocolate in a mindful way, through the conscious engagement of the senses. It is interesting to notice the mix of emotions that come up for people when they are given permission (and a new way) to appreciate something that is commonly thought of as naughty, forbidden, or bad.
As humans we are designed to experience pleasure, and the science part tells us that if we allow ourselves to experience the pleasure we are wanting from food consciously, then our brain and body are more likely to be satisfied and we are less likely to want more than we need. Pleasure, therefore, is a necessary and healthy component of digestion, and allowing ourselves to experience the pleasure of eating can be an important step towards healing our relationship with our body and with food.
Beakfast Ice Cream
- one banana, peeled and cut into pieces, and frozen overnight
- 1 Tbs ground flax seeds or protein powder
- 1 Tbs peanut- or other nut butter
- 1 Tbs cocoa (optional),
- 1 tsp vanilla and/or flavouring of your choice, eg coffee granules, cinnamon, chai spice…
- just a splash of almond milk
Process all of these together in a food processor until smooth. Scoop into a container and freeze until needed (you may need to thaw it slightly before serving).
* There are many authors and practitioners who write about this practice. I suggest you google Mindful Eating if you’d like to learn more.