If you’re like me, you’ve fooled yourself into thinking that it’s relaxing to eat while watching TV. I have a million excuses to perpetuate this habit: my tiny NYC kitchen doesn’t fit more than two people at once; it’s a tight squeeze to sit at my kitchen table; The Real Housewives and their self-aggrandizing minutiae is a fun escape after a work day. (In case you’re wondering, the New York Housewives are my favorite. May I have a serving of Alex and Countess Luann’s passive-aggressive backstabbiness with a glass of Ramona’s Pinot Grigio, please?)
I never stopped to pay attention to its actual effect on me until recently. It’s taken me a good couple of years to acknowledge that my brain, nerves, and emotions are over stimulated leaving my senses burnt out and dulled. Chalk it up to denial or gradual acclimation to stressors, but not only am I depriving myself the actual taste of my food, but I’m also overeating (and still feeling under satisfied) because my brain is not receiving the chemical signal to stop when I should. Thinking about it now, my guilty pleasure falls away to just plain guilt. Is simultaneously eating and watching bad reality TV wreaking havoc on my body and soul? So, I’ve decided to try these simple adjustments to ease out of mindless eating:
1. The most obvious first step–leave that boob tube off. The news, celebrity gossip, nature shows, and famous travelling chefs will be there when you’re done with dinner.
2. Create a tranquil, pleasant dining space. Set your table using nice plates and cutlery–plain white dishes are usually the most visually appealing for plating—plus, they’re always pretty cheap at IKEA. Use your table manners. Put your knife and fork down between bites while chewing. This will help you to take your time.
3. Calm your thoughts. Give yourself a break from thinking about the surly teens who catcalled you on the street, how your friend was in a snit and snapped at you earlier in the day, the tense parent-teacher meeting, the pile of laundry that needs washing, the pile of bills waiting to be paid. Did I leave anything out? Of course I did–there are millions of things, but do your best to put them out of your mind for an hour.
4. Play with your food. You eat with your eyes, too! Feel free to experiment with plating your food in a creative, pretty, architectural way.
5. Set the mood with music. Classical music or light jazz at a low volume helps create a calm ambience. If you’re from the Gloria Steinem School of Feminism, however, and light jazz makes you think of Hugh Hefner in shiny pajamas, it might increase your tension, so find the genre that soothes your soul.
6. Try to gather everyone in the household to sit and sup together. I am currently single, but in the future I hope to marry a kind/ intelligent/ gainfully employed/handsome man, then have adorable, inherently sweet, brainy children together and make family dinner a nightly ritual. However, for now, I will ask my roommate if she wants to do this with me. If you live solo, why not try propping up a pillow with Jon Hamm’s picture pinned to it across the table? I’m kidding. Please don’t do this unless you aim to creep out your friends. If you DO try the Jon Hamm pillow, I am not one to judge.
7. Chew fifteen to thirty (or as many as you can tolerate) times. Pay attention to the changes in texture of the food. Remind yourself that the food you’re eating is doing good things for your body.
I’ve already found that trying just a few of these steps has helped bring about a shift in my feelings of gratitude, awareness, and satisfaction. Have you noticed a difference when you eat more mindfully? What are some of the ways you like to eat with intention?