Do you taste what you eat?

Graphic: WellnessCampaign.org

When you eat, do you pay attention to what you’re eating? Would it make a difference to your health if you did?

I’m talking about everything that goes in your mouth. Breakfast, lunch, snacks. Are you actually noticing what the food tastes like?

I work at home. As a result, I eat all three meals and an afternoon snack in the kitchen, except when out meeting somebody. Typically, that has meant I was reading something. Why not get something else done at the same time?

But I have realized something. For me, eating is shoveling. I eat quickly and mechanically. I don’t concentrate, because I’m usually doing something else. As a result, I often get to the meal without any memory of having eaten it at all.

So for one whole week, I decided to do things differently. (This was an exercise for my wellness group.)

First, before eating, I would take a moment to concentrate. (If you are religious, this is when you would say grace; I don’t do that, but I do pause and reflect.) Then, I would eat . . . and only eat. No reading the newspaper or reports or printouts. No mobile phone. No tablet. No television. For one week, if I was eating, I was only eating.

This was an exercise in mindful eating. I had to notice what I was eating.

And an amazing thing happened.

I actually tasted what I was eating. And I ate it more slowly.

The flavors were terrific. And I’m talking pretty ordinary stuff. Cereal or eggs or peanut butter on toast for breakfast. Leftovers or sandwiches for lunch. Cheese or apples for snacks. It all tasted great. I really enjoyed it.

When you eat quickly and mindlessly, your body does not recognize satiety — through an increase in blood sugar, and through fullness in your stomach — for perhaps 20 minutes. This is a big problem for me. I keep eating, because I don’t realize yet that I am full. It is not an exaggeration to say that this one factor is what is keeping me overweight.

During my week of eating mindfully, my body had time to catch up and signal my brain. I didn’t end up overfull. And I ate less.

Now, the idea that eating less will help you lose weight is stupefyingly simple. But it’s so much harder to do than to say. If you’re shoveling instead of eating mindfully, if you’re not noticing the flavors, if you’re eating quickly, then eating less means stopping eating when you are still hungry and waiting. This sounds like an issue of will power, but your will is no match for hunger and habit.

But when you eat mindfully and slowly, you get the satiety signal in time to stop. You stop being hungry.

I lost about a pound a half in this week ok eating mindfully.

And I enjoyed the food more.

And I didn’t suffer much hunger.

I will see how long I can keep it up. Not reading while eating is a difficult habit to maintain, especially when we’re all busy. But if you treat the humblest sandwich as if it were a gourmet meal, it makes a difference.

2 responses to “Do you taste what you eat?

  1. Guess you could say “good food for thought!”.
    Josh you are the button. My wife and I had a similar conversation over dinner earlier this week. In the “DVR” age there is no programing needs to be watched during a meal.

  2. I agree that it’s important to pay attention to the experience of eating. Paying attention to the sensual experience of food leads to being more interested and demanding, in the same way that paying attention to music helps develop your musical taste and paying attention to the books you read helps develop your literary taste. With food it can lead to an even more beneficial development: cooking your own food. When you’re paying attention to the act of eating, before long you’ll notice the difference between processed foods (bland, salty, boring) and the home-cooked or good quality restaurant meals you happen to eat. When you realize that you can control the tastes, textures and ingredients yourself, and produce those that best please you and those you cook for, the path to eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and higher-quality ingredients is wide open.

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