January 14, 2017
Humans, as we know, traditionally have five senses: Sight (ophthalmoception), hearing (audioception), taste (gustaoception), smell (olfacoception or olfacception), and touch (tactioception). We are fortunate if we have all five senses intact.
Which sense is most important to you? Would you rather be deaf than blind? Could you forgo your sense of smell? Did you know certain brain tumors can cause “anosmia,” the inability to smell? What if you no longer could taste or smell your favorite food?
We live in such busy society we spend hours working hard while allotting only a few minutes for lunch in our offices. While working as a medical resident, I used to “inhale” the food on my tray as I walked into the elevator, finishing my dinner by the time I got out of the elevator. Food did not taste good or bad. In those days, I ate to survive. Many of us multitask while eating, such as watching television, answering emails or texts, reading newspapers or books. We do not pay attention to how full we might feel or how much food we have consumed as our mind gets distracted by these tasks.
As the last activity of an eight week meditation class taught by Dr. Arnold Raizon, a local radiologist and certified meditation teacher, we participants were treated to a “mindful eating” experiment. Mindful eating is a practice started by Buddhist monks to teach their students to meditate with food. Many academic centers including the Harvard school of public health and Cornell have studied mindful eating as a way to healthy living. Mindful eating is widely believed to allow us to slow down to enjoy our food, calm our mind, lower our stress level, and control our weight.
For our mindful dinner, each of us brought a dish to share. We did not tell each other what we brought or ingredients we used in our dish. For each course, we were blindfolded before the server, who prepared his or her dish, put a small amount of food on our plates. We were instructed to chew slowly and in silence. We focused on the texture, scent, taste of whatever in the dish. All the dishes were delicious, including a plate of fresh fruit with some unusually big blueberries.
At the end of the meal, our team discussed how this experiment had affected us. We all agreed the food tasted more intense. By not being distracted by sight, including looking at our gadgets, newspapers or a show on TV, we could differentiate the smooth texture of avocado, crispiness of fresh kale, and a mixture of sweetness and tanginess of pomegranate seeds. It was amazing to experience the distinctive taste of each ingredient in a complicated dish. By eating mindfully, our other senses did not disrupt our senses of taste, touch and smell.
We also agreed how, when we ate slowly, we felt full and satisfied more quickly, although each portion served was not more than a bite. We realized when we distract ourselves with books or newspapers, music, gadgets, we don’t notice as readily the sensation of fullness. We end up eating more than we need to. Engaging in a conversation might have slowed down our meal and helped us eat less, but we would not have experienced the wonders of our taste buds.
By not seeing or engaging in a conversation, I was able to mindfully enjoy the food. While eating a blueberry, I thought of how it started as a seed and turned into a mature bush with such wonderful berries, and how the berries ended up first on a bush and then on my plate. I appreciated every morsel of food, as much as I appreciated all the work by so many people to finally bring this food to me. A morsel of food brought me awareness and gratitude. It would be hard for me to think about wasting any food after this sense of gratitude.
You should try this experiment of mindful eating with a group of friends. It is a simple but meaningful exercise of active meditation, started by the Buddhist monks, but now practiced by so many secular organizations and people. Mindful eating will teach you the harmony between you, your food, and your environment.
To read more about mindful eating, below is a good article from the New York Times: