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Play With Your Food

A practice for children of all ages

Really. I’m not talking about having a food fight or smearing it on the walls, but about developing a different relationship with eating. So often we eat on autopilot, not tasting our food, or we eat so quickly that we notice we’ve devoured a pint of ice cream in minutes.

Recent research by Jean Kristeller has shown that bringing mindfulness to eating can decrease binge and emotional eating, curb overeating, and help us feel more satisfied with the quality, not just the quantity of our food. So how do we do this? How can we develop a more playful, less fraught relationship to food?

I developed the following practice for a recent half-day retreat at Cambridge Health Alliance, which was led by Richa Gawande, Ph.D, who adapted it. The practice was inspired by the classic raisin eating exercise in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, but I’ve expanded it and substituted a juicy clementine (or orange) for the dry raisin.

This practice is especially suited for children, or one might say, children of all ages. Feel free to make it your own. Enjoy.

Clementine Practice

  • Receiving this object, hold it with “beginner’s mind.” Imagine that you’ve never seen this before, which in fact you haven’t.
  • As you hold it, notice the light, color, feel the texture, the weight, the temperature. Turn it over. Try smelling it, listening to it, touching it with your tongue. Befriend this orange ball.
  • Find a place in this ball where there’s an indentation, and the skin yields to gentle pressure. Pierce the skin with your nail. What are you noticing? There might be a spray of liquid, or increased smell. Just notice what happens.
  • As you begin to peel away the skin, observe contrasting color, smell, texture, weight. Pay attention to what’s emerging from beneath the skin. Bring beginner’s mind to this new object.
  • When you’re ready, separate one section from the whole. No need to rush.
  • Put it to your lips. Perhaps touch it with your tongue. Place it between your teeth. Notice salivation, taste, and any other sensations. Close your eyes if you like.
  • Begin to chew. Notice the juice, its taste, and its texture as you slowly chew.
  • When you’re ready, swallow. Notice the sensations as you swallow the section.
  • With your fingers open one section of the object. Observe the light, color, and complexity of the inside of the fruit. Spend a moment noticing this.
  • When ready, place it inside your mouth. Let it rest there, noticing what this is like, and then begin to chew. If your thoughts wander, no problem, just bring them back to the sensations in the mouth.
  • Begin eating the rest of this object at your own pace. Then, if you like, you might try speeding up the process. Can you still pay attention to the sensations of eating? What is it like to really speed it up? What is this like?
  • Notice what’s happening in your body. What’s happening to your breath? Your thoughts?
  • Emotions? Greet it all with kind attention.
  • Before returning to the day, send gratitude to all those who planted the tree, picked the fruit, brought it to market, to those who brought this to you today, and who will dispose of it.
  • Rest for a moment, savoring the last of the clementine, before opening your eyes.

As you go through your day, see if you can bring this attitude of enjoyment and playfulness to the meals or snacks that you eat.

Psychologist Susan Pollak, MTS, Ed.D., co-author of the book Sitting Together: Essential Skills for Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapy, (Guilford Press) has been teaching and supervising at Harvard Medical School for over twenty years.

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