Food as Medicine: Mindful Mealtimes

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Mindfulness is…

  • Paying attention to how you feel right now.
  • Using all 5 senses to notice the world around you.
  • Accepting what you observe without judgment.

To have mindful mealtimes…

  • Put away distractions (such as television, electronic devices, homework, arguments).
  • You can eat alone or with family and friends.
  • Pay attention while you prepare and eat food.
  • Use your 5 senses to explore the foods.
  • Notice when you are “hungry” and when you are “full”.

Mind-body connection

How do my thoughts and feelings affect digestion?

  • A network of nerves surrounds your gut and guides digestion.
    • When you are calm, your nerves trigger digestive muscles to work correctly.
    • When you are stressed, your brain sends signals to slow or stop digestion. It can also cause belly pain.
  • What you can do:
    • Use deep breathing exercises before a meal.
    • Breathing exercises improve communication between the gut and brain. This helps to control pain signals, helps with digestion and reduces inflammation (swelling).
    • Focus on the food.
    • When you smell food, your brain sends signals to produce saliva in your mouth and digestive juices in your stomach.
    • Your body is getting ready to digest!
    • Take your time and chew.
    • Chewing is the first step in breaking down food.
    • Chewing food well helps your body to use all the nutrients inside food and helps prevent some symptoms of indigestion.

Tips to practice mindfulness from meal preparation to mealtime:

Start exploring: Use food preparation to set the tone!

  • Practice mindful handwashing.
    • Feel the water and soap on your skin.
    • Think about your day. How did it make you feel?
  • Use your 5 senses while preparing the food.
    • Smell and taste as you go.
    • How does each ingredient taste and smell? Does it change during cooking?
      Note: Do not taste raw eggs or meats, or mixtures containing these.
    • Use colorful fruits and vegetables cut in different ways to add interest to the plate.
    • What do you hear?
      • Sizzling in the pan.
      • Rhythmic chopping.
      • What else do you hear?
    • Use touch as a tool as you wash produce, mix ingredients, and shape patties.
  • Pay attention to how you feel.
    • Are you hungry?
    • Is there something that you need before you are ready to eat?
    • If you feel anxious or overwhelmed, take one or more deep breaths.

Create a supportive environment:

  • Choose music that makes you feel calm and happy.
  • Try different lighting.
  • Limit distractions. Turn off the television. Put away cell phones, tablets, homework, and toys.
  • Make sure everything is on the table before sitting for your meal.
  • Children should sit in chairs or booster seats that support their bodies and feet.

Relaxing rituals:

  • Before you start to eat, relax and focus with breathing exercises.
  • Pause to be thankful. Follow a religious tradition or use your own words.
  • Some topics can be stressful. Think about sharing good news from the day while you eat.
  • Decide what to eat, how much to take, and enjoy the food on your plate.
  • Slow down and savor. Put your fork down while you chew each bite. Pause and appreciate the next bite before you put it in your mouth.

Eating with 5 senses:

  • Am I feeling hungry? During the meal, remember to pause and think about how hungry you feel.
  • How does the food feel as you chew and move it around with your tongue? How does it change? Do you feel ready to swallow?
  • What flavors do you taste? Is it sweet, sour, spicy, salty, bitter, savory (umami)?
  • What does the food taste like on different parts of your tongue?
  • What foods taste good together?

Additional resources

Mindful eating tools

External resources

CHOP resources

November 2022