Ever since I was young, I’ve had distractions built into my eating experience. My parents had the TV news on every morning at breakfast. At school, I would eat lunch while talking with my classmates. And when I came home, I would watch a TV show while eating dinner.
In adulthood, not much has changed. Well, I don’t like the news or the noise of the TV in the morning. So that’s not a big deal. But otherwise, especially now armed with an iPad and infinite on-demand movie and TV Show options, whenever I cook and eat at home, I watch something.
In my mind, cooking and eating is a guilt-free time to watch TV. After all, you can’t do anything else productive like answer email! Your eyes are free to watch! And cooking is a good thing to do for yourself, you deserve a treat!
But as I’ve been learning more and more about Ayurveda, the Science of Life, and other Eastern lifestyle philosophies such as Tao, I kept learning about the importance of eating mindfully. Even Western diets are catching up to this – there is a whole slow food movement!
Yet, despite reading and acknowledging the importance of this so many times, I just couldn’t get past not being able to be entertained while eating.
I was finally able to overcome this obstacle by doing something that I was shocked by when I traveled in India: eating with my hands.
Since then, I have integrated other practices into my eating, and food has become this fully incredible spiritual experience that I can’t imagine missing out on anymore.
Here are a few things I do:
Cook with New Ingredients, Spices
One of the big reasons I needed entertainment such as Netflix during cooking before was because I found it pretty boring.
But recently, I started cooking with new ingredients and spices I read about in my Ayurveda books. I now use Ghee, super healthy Indian clarified butter, moong dal, and new spices such as mustard seeds, turmeric, cumin, and coriander.
Mustard is extra exciting – I’m still trying to figure out how to make it pop without it exploding all over the place but also not burning…
This has made cooking more of a scientific experience for me. I’m testing the right timing for putting these spices in, how much to put in, and what they even taste like.
Recently, I learned about a super healthy Ayurvedic dish called Kitchari, which is a mix of Ghee, spices, moong dal, and rice. Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of rice. So I’ve been experimenting making it with quinoa and buckwheat, my preferred grains. I’m consciously experimenting in the kitchen vs just mindlessly cooking.
Cooking has become very intellectually stimulating. And I’ve found that I enjoy this time without TV. While waiting for the Ghee to melt to a hot enough point that mustard seeds will pop, I use the remaining ghee on the spoon to massage it into my hands. It feels good!
Now, even as I’m getting used to cooking with these new healthy ingredients, I found that I enjoy paying attention to what I’m doing. The yellow color of moong dal, washing it until the water becomes not cloudy. Cutting bright purple carrots with an orange center. How turmeric turns everything yellow.
Food is so beautiful!
Check-in Mentally While Waiting
Sometimes, while cooking, you have to wait. For water to boil for example. Instead of immediately looking for a distraction, I now take this time to check in with myself.
Feel the hunger while I’m cooking. Feel if I have any residue emotions that might make it harder to enjoy the food (e.g. anger). Feel the pulse running through my body. Feel alive.
Eat Alone, No Distractions
“In silence and with mindfulness, you’re able to receive the gifts your food offers. Silence is the language of the soul. It connects you to your indwelling spirit, bringing great calm and mental peace. Eating in silence, as much as possible, is all it takes to start developing more mental strength and equanimity. And who doesn’t want that?”
Ok, this one might be hard to do socially, but do think back on the last time you ate with other people. Do you remember the food at all? Likely not… It’s not very satisfying to eat while talking. There’s even a risk of choking in that situation!
I often eat out by myself. Sometimes, I’ll be excited to bring a friend along to share in the amazing food only to be annoyed when we’re having a great conversation and I can’t fully enjoy the amazing taste of the food because I’m talking or they’re talking while the food gets cold.
Not to mention how stimulating and emotional those conversations could be… I remember changing emotions multiple times during big family holiday dinners when I was a child.
When you’re not paying attention to what you’re eating and the emotions within, then you will not notice the taste of the food, how it’s making you feel, when you’re truly full, etc.
If you work or go to school during the day, I highly recommend leaving the work or school for lunch. Legally, you’re allowed to take a 1-hour lunch. Working through lunch won’t make you a hero. Take advantage of that hour to step away.
I used to go to a beautiful garden during my lunch break almost every day when I worked in an office – I invited my coworkers, but very few would join, eating quickly and working instead. After an hour of enjoying the food and being outside, I felt refreshed, much more motivated and focused on getting the rest of my work done.
When you eat while working, you’re not eating or doing work effectively, so you’re just wasting time. Focus on the food. Then focus on the work. You’ll get more done.
I know this one might be harder if you live with others. However, this is where it’s important to communicate your needs and boundaries.
I used to live with a boyfriend who worked from home. When I came home from work, I’d be exhausted, but my boyfriend would be excited to talk to me after some days of not talking to anyone all day! I had to set a boundary. I told him that I needed an hour of “me time” after work. I used that time to eat and watch Netflix while he continued working.
After that hour, I felt refreshed. We would sit down and chat until evening, having the best conversations. When we broke up, he mentioned that those evening conversations were what he missed most about our relationship.
If I didn’t set that boundary, the story would have turned out differently. I would have been stressed and fatigued, unable to emotionally engage or listen to him. And he would have been mad because I didn’t care about what he had to say. By setting that hour of alone time eating boundary, I was able to fully engage on every level during our conversations.
You’d be surprised by how understanding and respectful people could be when you do set those boundaries. It might even lead to some interesting personal conversations that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Eat with Hands
“When feasible, eat with your hands so that your skin can send temperature and texture cues to your brain.”
When I first had to eat with my hands in India, I couldn’t do it… It was so hard to get past the “don’t get your hands dirty” mentality that was built-in to me since I was a child.
But after a few trips to India and attempting hard to step out of my cultural comfort zone and learn, I finally succeeded to enjoy it as an experience at my friend’s wedding.
However, recently, as I’ve been working to break my habit of watching TV, the idea of eating with my hands came up naturally to me as I was checking in with myself while waiting for the food to boil.
I tried it and absolutely loved it! By eating with my hands, I feel more connected with my food than ever. I also am forced to pay attention – otherwise, the food will go all over me!
By doing this, I discovered that I used to eat food when it was too hot temperature-wise. I love when the food is straight from the stove. However, since the food was hot when I put in my mouth, I couldn’t chew it for that long and swallowed it as soon as possible so it wouldn’t burn my toungue. That was probably bad for my throat and other digestive organs…
But when I started eating with my hands, I could no longer do that. If the food is too hot, I can’t pick it up! I also started to eat slower, waiting for the food to cool down as I eat the cooler food from the sides of my dish.
The one big thing I had to change was to remove my nail polish (so it wouldn’t get in my food!) and cut my nails short. But eating with my hands has become such a profound experience, I’m ok to suffer this consequence… Try it!
One big thing I noticed is that when watching TV or talking to friends while eating, I chew to the rhythm of those activities.
As the TV scene gets more fast-paced, my chewing and eating will get fast-paced. Similarly, while eating with a friend, I would wolf down my food fast while they’re speaking so I wouldn’t have a mouthful of food when it’s my turn to reply.
That is why eating alone with no distractions is so important. You can pay attention and control the rate of chewing and swallowing. The more you can chew your food in your mouth, the easier it’ll be to digest in the gut.
But there’s more! I found that mindfully chewing my food has opened up a whole new world to me. I started tasting new flavors, new textures. Unlike anything I’ve experienced before! It’s like my tongue just woke up and discovered flavors for the first time!
As a bonus, by eating slowly and paying attention, I am now more connected to my body’s needs. For example, realizing when I’m full.
I used to over-eat a lot before while watching TV during mealtimes because I had no idea how much was enough for me. I was also eating so fast, it made sense to get another plate, especially to have an excuse to continue watching the TV show or movie without feeling like I was wasting time.
Now I chew slowly, pay attention, and eat just the right amount as mirrored by my new weight loss.
Thunderbolt Yoga Pose
“Thunderbolt Pose (Vajrasana; vajra means ‘thunderbolt’ and asana means ‘pose’) is the only yogic posture Ayurveda recommends practicing immediately after meals. It’s a very powerful pose for digestion and building mental power. As my teacher revealed, Thunderbolt Pose ‘connects your highest consciousness with the best of your physical manifestation.’ By regularly practicing this pose, you’ll experience tremendous resolution, self-acceptance, and incredible digestion.
I started taking 3-5 minutes after each meal to sit in the Thunderbolt yoga pose as suggested by the above book. It’s become a meditative experience.
Instead of going straight back to work and other tasks, it allows me time to check in with my body and feel the effects of the food.
Yesterday, I tried a different dish than usual – white baby potatoes instead of quinoa or another grain. While the meal was delicious, I noticed that my body was not that happy with it right after… I still wasn’t sure if I was imagining this, but for the rest of the afternoon, I felt so fatigued, I ended up taking a nap for an hour, which I haven’t done in a long time!
While normally I could have attributed it to all kind of factors, this time I knew what it was because I took the time to notice it. I was planning to have these potatoes several times this week, but now I won’t be… Today I had quinoa and I felt invigorated and energized afterward!
While a food might be healthy and even recommended for your body type or for the season, it might still not be the right food for you personally at this time due to other factors you might not realize are at play.
It is also an important thing to do when you eat bad food to break those “feel good” associations. A bar of chocolate might make you feel great at the moment, while you’re eating it, but you might notice that you feel all jittery afterward for example. Now you can associate chocolate with not only “it tastes so good, I want that taste” but also with “this will make me feel bad” and make better decisions in the future.
By taking 5 minutes after each meal to check in with yourself and improve your digestion through this yoga pose, you can have a much more profound and spiritual connection with your body, which is the ultimate knower of what you actually need.
Walk 100 Steps
“The act of walking just 100 steps (which isn’t a lot and only takes 5 minutes) at a moderate pace helps ignite your digestive fire to most optimally convert your food into nourishment.
Cultivating the habit of walking after meals will work wonders to counteract the heavy, sleepy feeling that often follows eating.”
If you work in an office and go eat outside for lunch, this includes going back to your office!
I, on the other hand, currently work for myself from my apartment. Following this rule ensures that I get outdoor time a few times during the day. After the lunch walk is my most productive work time of the day! Previously, I used to be so fatigued, I could barely keep from sleeping.
That short outdoor walk is also enough time for the sun to activate my body’s circadian rhythm, giving me important triggers about the time of day when I should be doing activities such as eating, working, and sleeping.
I’ve been gradually following this routine for the past month. I started by cooking with different foods and spices. Then eating with my hands.
Eating with my hands was the only thing that helped me get over my Netflix + food association. Now, I barely watch Netflix at all. Looks like food was my personal Netflix trigger.
Not watching TV led me really focus on eating, chewing slowly and mindfully, enjoying the alone time, awakening my taste buds.
Adding the after-meal yoga pose allowed me to connect with how food makes me feel afterward, not just during it. And the 100 step walk leaves me feeling energized for the work I have to do for the rest of the day.
You might have to experiment with all of this. After all, your vices with food are likely very different than mine. You’ll have to find your own ways to break them. But I do hope you get to experience eating food with your whole self – body, mind, and spirit.