When you think of meditation, do Doritos or Ben and Jerry’s come to mind?
No? Well, let’s change that.
Whether it’s because they’re full of high-fructose corn syrup or covered in cheese dust or because you say you’ll just have a few while you watch the new Drag Race and then look down at an empty packet in your lap one lip-sync later, we’re used to thinking of snack foods as bad, and then thinking of ourselves as bad when we eat them.
Instead of gleefully shaming yourself for hoovering snacks in your Shame Pants without really enjoying them, savor what you want to eat with a side of mental health benefits by using it as a meditation aid.
Mindfulness “gets roped into the wellness scene to help sell açai bowls and kombucha,” says Mary Hoang, founder and principal psychologist of Sydney mental wellbeing organisation The Indigo Project. “But mindfulness should not only be reserved for salivating for 10 minutes over a sultana. There are opportunities for mindfulness throughout our day, and [those] shouldn’t be sacrificed on account of you eating a Big Mac as opposed to an Activated Quinoa Bowl.”
Eating is something that’s mentioned often as part of developing a mindfulness practice. Like breathing, you do it every day, and can often take it for granted. Slowing down to focus on it, however, has proven health benefits. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, a researcher whose mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques are taught at various medical centers, “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” One of those techniques involves mindfully eating a raisin.
Meditation students are to focus on a single raisin and imagine they’d never seen this odd dried fruit before. Notice the shades of dark purple, the wrinkles, twirl it in their fingers, listen to the sound it makes as it’s squeezed, sniff it, he’d suggest. And if they thought, “what the fuck am I doing?,” they were to acknowledge that quickly and then come back to investigating the raisin. They’d let it sit on their tongues before chewing, exploring the taste before following its journey from their tongue to their teeth to their belly.
You don’t need a raisin or a “healthy” snack to practice this mindfulness technique. You can do it with any food you want. Even a french fry. Even a Dorito. Even a scoop of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.
While instructors may recommend taking about five minutes to do the raisin meditation, Hoang says bringing the concepts explored during the exercise into your day for just 30 seconds has more of an effect than doing nothing.
Next time you grab a really good, fresh, hot French fry, try using it to meditate.
“Meditation can be lots of things, but I think primarily it is the cultivation of an intentional focus on something — on a thought, a visualisation, an object, and activity,” adds Hoang. “I also see meditation as a form of self-connection — an opportunity to sit with how we are feeling and ‘showing up’ that day without judgement.”
Hoang starts the process of mindful eating by thinking about how her food was made: “Be grateful for all the hard work and hands of many that made this snack possible for you to enjoy.” (This is equally valid and fascinating whether you’re thinking about a cucumber or a Cheeto, I promise.)
“Then bring your awareness to your five senses and allow your body to take in the food through all of them. What does the food look like: the colours, the textures? What does it smell like: is it familiar, is it novel? What does it feel like in your mouth? Can you feel its texture? Is it hot or cool? What does it sound like as you bite down: Does it crunch? Does it squish? And finally, how does it taste? Salty? Sweet? Bitter?”
So next time you grab a really good, fresh, hot French fry, try using it to meditate.
Seriously. Hold it up as it cools. Look at how the light diffuses through the oil-crisped edge. Focus only on the fry. Think about that weirdly soothing video you saw online of huge machines slicing millions of potatoes into millions of fries, and feel gratitude for this fry, which has come to you. Smell it, gently. Bite it slowly. Taste the salt, and the potato, separately and together. Focus only on the fry. Notice the contrast between that crisp edge and the creamy middle. (Or if you’re one of those freaks who prefers the soft and soggy ones, enjoy that.)
If, after all that, you want to shovel them in by the fistful, go for your life. But think about that first fry later, and the peacefulness you felt while you focused only on that fry, even just for a few seconds. You meditated today. Congrats!
Headspace, generally a great resource for mindfulness and meditation beginners, also has a . “As well as making us watchful about what we eat,” the page says, “[mindful eating] aims to transform our relationship with food by focusing on the how and why of eating, encouraging a more holistic point of view.”
While its program has been helpful for many, “being watchful about what we eat” has a worrying hint of diet-culture flavor. You don’t need to veer in that direction. You can eat mindfully without having to count out almonds. The wellness industry, and the related fixation on what’s seen as “natural,” doesn’t have a monopoly on mindfulness. There’s an insidious, well-lit asceticism that’s grown around the wellness industrial complex and the way it markets itself. Self-care may have devolved into millennial shorthand for doing whatever you want because life has too many rules and is stressful, but “wellness” has become synonymous with the perceived virtue of denying yourself certain things, like milk chocolate or processed food, and that’s bullshit too.
Mindful eating isn’t about making up for your nutritional “sins.” It’s about maximising the pleasure you get from eating anything, whether it’s a really good strawberry or a Twinkie or an especially cheese-dust-crusted Dorito. If you make the conscious choice to eat something for pleasure, rather than purely for fuel, don’t cancel that pleasure out by not enjoying it fully.
“I think that some of us are so scared to give ourselves permission to feel good in a genuine and authentic way, because we think that if we do, we will descend into a pit of debauched indulgence,” says Hoang. “And then there’s some of us that constantly chase feeling good by numbing and distracting ourselves, and resisting any deeper investigation inward, to understand how we really feel beneath all the party drugs, alcohol, junk food, etc. The popular thing to tout is ‘it’s all about balance,’ but I think it’s actually all about self-awareness.”
If you’d like to talk to someone about your eating behaviors, call the National Eating Disorder Association’s helpline at 800-931-2237. You can also text “NEDA” to 741-741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at the Crisis Text Line or visit NEDA’s website for more information.
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