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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
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Mindful Eating

If you are intent upon developing a more generalized sensitivity and awareness for a richer and more fulfilling life, there is no better place to start than at your table. The key to awareness about eating is to slow down. Eating fast is a disservice to the cook who prepared the food, to your companions at the table, and primarily to your own body. Ask any weight-control expert and you will learn that slowing down your eating speed will cause you to eat less. It makes sense. When you allow time for the food to reach your stomach and for the digestive juices to begin the breakdown process, hunger sensations will begin to diminish. It will take a smaller amount of food to satisfy you, and that is a help not only in maintaining your ideal weight, but also in sustaining a longer life.

To appreciate food requires the varied use of many senses and organs besides the mouth, tongue, teeth, and taste buds. Many cooks will complain that they have little hunger left after looking at and smelling food for hours in the preparation. While this condition is far from desirable to most of us, it illustrates the important role that sight and smell play in the whole drama. And that is just what eating can become - a drama. Imagine your disappointment, even anger, if you had spent $80 or $100 for front-and-center theater seats to witness a famous production, only to have the actors and actresses race through their lines, as if they were reciting grocery lists or multiplication tables, on a stage devoid of sets with no complementary lighting. To eat purely out of habit or in a race against the clock is to participate in a similar travesty.

Food has aroma, and texture, and color, and form, and temperature, and weight, both on the plate and in your mouth. How often have you allowed these characteristics to enter your awareness? To do so, you simply have to slow down.

In many cultures and religious traditions it is common to offer a prayer before a meal. Whatever your particular spiritual orientation may be, you can undoubtedly appreciate the wisdom of this practice. The body is given a few moments to rest, to orient itself in preparation for the task of eating. The eyes are temporarily closed, shutting out distractions and allowing one to focus awareness on breathing. A few deep breaths will facilitate general relaxation of the entire organism. Reflection may be made about the love and caring that went into the preparation of the meal, the richness of life in general as symbolized in the richness and abundance of the food, and the resolution made to eat with reverence and awareness. Not a bad habit to start, if this is not already a part of your mealtime practice.

A Contemporary Meal Prayer

Countless beings have contributed their precious life energies to supply this food that we are about to eat. Let us remember them, with gratitude. Let us eat with reverence for all life.

Finally, while there is little evidence to prove claims for foods as aphrodisiacs (substances that increase the sexual urge), it is general knowledge that seduction is more readily accomplished in a quiet candle-lit atmosphere than at the corner taco stand. Few would argue that the sensual pleasures of food can be heightened by the proper setting, the mode of preparation and presentation, and the service. There is more to eating than satisfying hunger pains. Why not slow down and allow yourself a greater share of life's pleasures by appreciating food for its sacramental and multisensual qualities?

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