When is the last time you noticed, really noticed, what you’re eating and what you’re doing while you’re eating? Despite our promises to be more mindful, sometimes we still slip up. So much stress, so many responsibilities, so much snow—it’s easy to end up mindlessly inhaling our food while we sneak one more peek at our cell phones, play referee to one more mealtime squabble between the kids, or simply rush toward the day’s finish line.
OK, don’t beat yourself up. But do ask yourself this key question: Are you willing to try something different? I’ve found in my clinical practice that it’s easier to embrace change if we don’t try to overhaul all of our bad habits at once. Just be willing to take one step at a time. Here are some steps you can take to bring more mindfulness—that is, nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment—to your family mealtime:
A Moment of Silence: Sit down at the table at the same time. Before anyone touches any food, create a ritual of silence, even if it’s just for ten seconds. You might ask your family to close their eyes. You might hold hands around the table. You might say a formal “grace” or a prayer, or a statement of gratitude. Or take three long, conscious breaths together. Whatever works for your family’s style. The idea is to be willing to create space between the hectic activities of the day and your mealtime. Like a period at the end of sentence, a silent ritual is a lovely way to mindfully punctuate your day.
Unplug! You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: To eat mindfully, we’ve got to unplug. No TV. No phones. No computers. No video games. Nothing. Even if you can’t make the commitment to pull this off for every meal, try it a few times a week, or even once a week, and see if you notice a difference. Before I bought my first smartphone, I was one of those holier-than-thou, “just-do-it” proponents of unplugging. Now, a mere five months later, I’m hopelessly addicted and even struggle to keep my phone off the table much less out of earshot. If this is an issue at your table, you might implement a new “no devices until after dessert” rule and see how the dynamic changes.
Forks Down: Challenge your kids, and yourself, to put the fork down between each bite. Chew and swallow fully, tasting your food, for just one meal. You can even make a contest of it. How many mindful bites can you total up? It’s so easy to eat mindlessly. Sometimes I find myself standing at the sink, scraping the plate, and loading the dishwasher while I’m still chewing! When I snap out of my trance for long enough, I can make a different choice, a healthier choice.
Eat One Raisin: To experience mindful eating more formally, try the classic raisin exercise sometime, maybe for dessert one night. Or you can substitute a strawberry or gummi bear or orange slice for the raisin. Ask your kids to close their eyes (or use a blindfold to add even more drama) and open their hands. Place a single raisin in one hand, but don’t tell them what it is. Tell them first to touch the object and notice everything they can about it. What is the texture? Is it hard or soft? Big or small? Smooth or rough? Then have them open their eyes and look at the raisin as if they’re a Martian and had never seen a raisin before. Then have them smell it, really smell it. Next, ask them to rub the raisin against their lips and notice what that’s like—no biting, licking, or swallowing. Not yet. OK, now. Slowly, mindfully have them take a tiny bite and chew at least ten times before swallowing. What do they notice? Can they slow down their attention to notice what it feels like to swallow this one tiny bite? Can you? Are you willing to try?
These tips for bringing more mindfulness to your mealtime can extend into other parts of your day. We have to be willing, at least when we remember, to stop, slow down, tune in, and notice—simply notice, through all of our senses, what it’s like to be aware in the present moment, and alive in our minds and bodies.
Deborah Sosin, LICSW, MFA, is a writer, editor, and clinical social worker who specializes in mindfulness-based psychotherapy. Her picture book, Charlotte and the Quiet Place, is due out in September (Parallax Press). Her essays have appeared in numerous publications, including the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Boston Globe Magazine, The Writer’s Chronicle (forthcoming) and on Salon.com. She teaches at GrubStreet and offers writing workshops in the Boston area. Debbie earned her MSW at Smith College School for Social Work and her MFA at Lesley University. She is a 2014 graduate of the advanced certificate program at the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy and has a private practice in Newton, Mass. For more information, visit www.deborahsosin.com.