What did you eat for lunch yesterday? Did you enjoy it? Do you even remember? Often we wolf down food without even experiencing the pleasures (or displeasures) of the meal. There are many factors that contribute to a mind-body disconnection when eating. Patterns of dieting and overeating can cause us to lose touch with our body's natural signals. Emotional conflicts around food can also cause us to disconnect from our internal experience; ie. when you "blew your diet" by eating that cake, did you even enjoy it or were you so consumed by the surrounding emotions that the experience of eating the cake became secondary? Multitasking by eating in front of the computer screen, television, or while cooking dinner for your family has similar results. To reestablish a mind-body connection during eating and to fully experience your next meal or snack, try this mindful eating exercise. You will need 6 jelly beans or other small food item that you have available (grapes, raisons, and nuts also work well for this activity); I will use jelly beans in this example but substitute whatever works for you.
Hold 1 jelly bean in the palm of your hand. Imagine that you are an alien from another planet who has just arrived on Earth. You have never seen this item before in your life. What is it? Try to describe it without using the name. Remember: you are an alien and you don't know what a 'jelly bean' is. What does it look like? What color is it? Is it shiny or dull? Is there texture? Does it leave any residue on your hand? What is the temperature? Use your other hand to touch the item. What does it feel like? Is it hard or soft? Smooth or rough? Any new observations? Is there any noise that you hear from touching the item? After you have fully described the item using vision and touch, bring the item to your nose and smell it. Is there a scent? What does it smell like? Bring the item to your lips. Hold it against your lips and notice any sensations. Are they any sensations on the inside of your mouth? Perhaps watering from the anticipation of eating? When you are ready, place the item inside your mouth but do not chew it yet. Is there any taste from the unchewed item? Does this change over time? What is the texture of the item in your mouth? Is there any sound that the item makes in your mouth? When you are ready, chew the item. Does the taste change? Any new sounds? Any new sensations? When you are done chewing, swallow the item. How has the item changed forms from its journey from your palm to now? After you have swallowed the item, observe any sensations in your mouth. Any lingering taste from the item that you have just eaten? Are you experiencing any emotional reactions? Do you notice any changes in your level of hunger or fullness after having eaten this item?
Now take another jelly bean and place it in the palm of your hand. Again, examine this item in your hand. What does it look like? What does it feel like? Is it different than the first item? Touch the item and observe any sensations. Smell the item and notice any smells. Now its time to make a decision- do you want to eat this item? If so, place the item in your mouth and hold it in your mouth without chewing; notice any sensations. Chew the item and then swallow, continuing to notice any sensations. Repeat until you no longer desire any more jelly beans—making a conscious and deliberate decision each time you take another candy. Many people experience feelings, thoughts, and judgments while participating in this exercise—especially if your relationship with food is a difficult one. Just observe these thoughts and feelings. How is this way of eating different from the way that you normally eat? Think about how you may incorporate aspects of this exercise into your daily eating. Eating mindfully and listening to what our bodies are telling us can help create peace and increased pleasure in our eating experiences.