I haven’t paused to taste and savor my food for at least 1.2 million minutes since 1975. That is a sobering stretch of tasteless time, which I calculated last week. I hope to use that number as a prod to remind myself to slow down and pay full attention to what I’m eating, instead of being distracted by the dream carnival inside of my mind.
When mindfulness—focused attention on the present moment—is applied to eating, there is evidence that it can reduce portion sizes and help people with diabetes to control blood sugar. Mindfulness is also an essential tool in the quest to understand the self and reality, my Buddhist teachers tell me. I know they’re right, but an equally important motivation for eating mindfully is the sense that I’m running out of time, I don’t know how much longer I have to enjoy feta cheese omelets with scallions.
Having returned to a regular meditation practice after letting it lapse for too long, I’ve eaten much more mindfully during the past year. It’s still insanely difficult, though. Why? No one had to tell our ancestors, “Idiots! Take the time to enjoy the gristle on that fire-roasted bear meat! Harry’s guarding the cave and there’s no need to worry about the snarling hyenas or anything else!” Yet I need to remind myself to remember to taste my food.
My diabetes might have something to do with that, according to Megrette Fletcher, nutritionist, certified diabetes educator and co-founder of the Center for Mindful Eating. “People with diabetes tend to think about food in terms of numbers and nutrients. They forget to get pleasure from it. They forget to ask themselves, `What does this piece of toast taste like’?” she told me. She tries to help her diabetic patients to “restore pleasure to the eating experience.”
Apparently, I’m not the only person with a useless pancreas who needs that help. In an email response to an earlier version of this post, Karol Breitholle, who has had Type 1 diabetes since 1961, noted: “I can relate. My husband is amazed that I look at food as a means of survival, not enjoyment.”
Of course, in an age that swarms with distractions, mindful eating is hard for everyone, not just people with diabetes. (more here)