Nhat Hanh says we can change this and turn mealtime into an art, a spiritual discipline, simply by following the Seven Practices of a Mindful Eater:
1. Honor the food. Start by unplugging all your daily distractions. Turn off the TV, your cellphone, and the laptop. Then take a moment to consider that everything you are about to consume – even the contents of your salad bowl – was recently alive and is about to provide your sustenance. Be grateful, too, for the many people who made this meal possible: the farmer who grew and harvested the food, the trucker who transported it, the shopkeeper who offered it, and your spouse or other individuals who may have worked hard to prepare it.
2. Engage all your senses. Before eating, make a practice of pausing. Notice the color, the smell and the texture of the food. With your first bite, take an extra moment to savor each nuance.
3. Serve modest portions. Nhat Hanh recommends using a small dinner plate no larger than nine inches across. Modest portions are not only healthier, they are less wasteful and a small step toward a more responsible use of the planet’s resources. It’s hard to believe, but over 16,000 children in the developing world still die every day from starvation, malnutrition or hunger-related illnesses. (If you’d like to do something about it, click here or here.)
4. Savor small bites. This allows you to better enjoy the taste of the meal. It also improves digestion since the process begins with enzymes in your mouth breaking down the food.
5. Eat slowly. This will make you feel pleasantly satisfied sooner and help you avoid overeating. There is a big difference between feeling you’ve had about enough and swearing you can’t eat another morsel. Set your fork down between bites. (Few people do this, I’ve noticed. Try it in a restaurant and more often than not your server will try to whisk your plate away.)
6. Eat regular meals. Skip a meal and you’re more likely to yield to fast-food restaurants and vending machines. Planning and sticking to regular meals – at least as much as your schedule allows – will enable you to eat more nutritious food, enjoy more satisfying company and settle your body into a consistent rhythm.
7. Eat a plant-based diet. Buddhists like Thich Nhat Hanh claim this isn’t just healthier, it is also easier on the environment and more compassionate toward animals. To the extent you do eat meat, studies show it’s better to favor fish and poultry. My good friend Dr. John Reed, head of the Burnham Institute (one of the world’s leading medical research institutes), loves a good steak. But he told me recently that he has given up red meat altogether. He says the increasing evidence of a connection between red meat and colon cancer is pretty scary.