Something I really enjoyed while at a retreat in KwaZulu-Natal in May 2014 (read the full story here) was mindful eating. I am not referring to a floating Buddha with a few soup bowls balancing on his head. Rather, we received hearty, home-cooked vegetarian meals. However, at certain meals we practised noble silence; we spoke to no one. Nor was there any TV or radio. We could give our food our full attention without any distractions.

I remember when I worked as an editor that, if I did have lunch, it was either my packed sandwich or a bought salad of which I ate about half while sitting at my computer typing or doing something else. There were so many things to do, I told myself, that taking a lunch break seemed crazy – I could get many things done in that hour!

How often do we skip lunch? When I was a lifestyle assistant on a magazine, I often did. It was simply not a priority. Or I would be busy on some task and forget all about food, realising only once I got home that my stomach had resorted to gnawing itself. Seeing I was alone, I would eat while watching TV, checking the messages on my phone with my spare hand.

Eating had to be done quickly, a bit of an inconvenience. If only I could just have taken a pill!

Sound familiar? If you had asked me what I had eaten two or three days before, I would have been clueless.

Eating mindfully was a new and interesting experience. Before starting, we were encouraged to look at our food, to see what was really on our plates – the colours and textures. We were encouraged to smell the food and relish its aroma, and to feel a sense of gratitude towards the food that was about to enter our bodies and nourish us. Then we could start eating: slowly, taking one bite at a time, really tasting each bite and chewing it properly before swallowing. Then a brief pause before the next bite. In this way we actually became aware of when we began to feel full and could stop before we had eaten too much.

You may wonder what we ate. I can actually remember our meals very well. Matabella, oats or “mieliepap” in the mornings. On our first Monday we had vegetarian burgers with chips. Sunday lunches were my favourite – roast vegetables, samosas and sambals. One Saturday we had an amazing aubergine, baby marrow and pumpkin lasagna. Every evening we had soup with homemade bread. I liked the spinach and corn soup we had on our second Friday best.

When last did you really pay attention to what and how you were eating?

Try the following:

  • Make an effort with your lunch. Ask yourself if you would serve a guest your sandwich. Be your own guest.
  • Take real lunch breaks away from your computer. Even if it is for 15 minutes at first.
  • Even if you have a hectic schedule, commit to at least one mealtime, say supper, at a certain time every day. Invest in a cookbook that shows you how to prepare food in 30 minutes.
  • Eat sitting down and focus solely on eating.
  • Make meals an event. Have you ever had a meal with a fully set table? Tablecloth, serviettes, place settings with the correct knives and forks, perhaps some flowers, candles and even name tags? Try using some of these traditions for your own mealtime – something that will serve as a cue to say: “This is mealtime!

[Source image credit: royalty free photos]