Eating Quietly

Maxwell and I just returned from our third ten-day Vipassana meditation course up in a chilly corner of Massachusetts. We returned to NYC this weekend, greeted by bright light, loud noises and for me, January's traditional Eating Light theme on The Kitchn.

I'd already been thinking about the notion of eating light, given the two-meal-a-day arrangement up there, but when I saw Maxwell wrote an ode to the simplicity and durability of the center's dishware (above), I thought I should chime in on what I noticed about eating with more awareness and less noise. Eating quietly vs. eating lightly.

When you woke up New Year's Day and opened your food magazines and blogs, chances are you saw salads, tofu, salmon and tips for cleansing and fasting. You might have scratched your head and wondered if the world was subliminally telling you to go on a diet.

While I agree that January is a great opportunity to start fresh in everything we do, thinking of the way we cook and eat in a restrictive and bland way is dangerous. The point isn't to turn you off from food; you need food to live. So I want to propose we reinvent this notion of eating light and ask you: If you were invited to eat quietly (aside from doing it with your mouth closed, as Mama told you to) what would it look like?

Here are a few quiet eating ideas that I mulled over in the silence these last two weeks:

  1. Cut out the alcohol. I found that when I wasn't drinking wine, I was noticing the food a lot more.
  2. Slow down. When you chew more slowly, even lifting the fork to your mouth more slowly, there's more time to taste and digest. There's more opportunity to experience the food rather that just chew it up and move on to the next thing.
  3. Close the eyes. When you block out one sense, the others get stronger. It works. Each bite will give you more. Taste each little part without the visual distractions of the outside world.
  4. Eat earlier. During the retreat, our last meal was at 11:30 am, and while I'm not suggesting you do something that extreme, if you shift dinnertime just an hour earlier you'll find you are ready for the meal but not as hungry. The above suggestions are easier. You'll sleep better, too.
  5. No snacking. Not meant as a dieting tip — what I mean is you should just eat when you are actually hungry, and while you can stop and be conscious of the experience of eating. There's a box full of pistachio brittle in our office right now, so I know that it's a challenge, oh do I. When you cut the snacking, your system quiets down.
  6. Quiet down, literally. Try eating without music or conversation. Don't even read. Certainly don't check email or watch television. The point isn't to be anti-social or sad, it's again to really pay attention to the act of eating. Just try it once, and see what comes up for you. Just you and your plate.
  7. Vegetarian. For many people who seek a quieter, lighter way of eating, it goes without saying that they don't eat meat. This path may not be for you, but consider it. Try it for a few days, see how it feels to remove the element of eating animals.
  8. Stay seated. Once you finish, don't rush to get up. Sit there for a moment. Let it sink in.
  9. Three quarters full. Meditators are advised to eat until three-quarters full. Not that there's a yardstick, but you get the idea once you start thinking about it while you eat. Stop before you feel any tinges of fullness. It isn't about fitting into your jeans, it's about having a more clear mind. Whether you're headed for a meditation cushion or your office chair, you'll feel better.
  10. Give thanks. A pause before eating to acknowledge (quietly, of course) the source of your food, the chef, the sun and soil and rain that grew the crops, and so forth will truly give you a more peaceful experience with the meal. It's like applying a calming balm to the mind before you transition from whatever you were doing before you sat down to eat.

Some of these suggestions might seem obvious, others might sound ridiculous. Try on a few. Or think of your own ways to eat quietly and give them fair trial for the rest of the month. The point is to take the idea of eating light and shift it from diet to consciousness.

How do you eat quietly? What are the benefits you see when you practice mindful eating?

Is this your year to start trying some new approaches to eating? Stay with us at The Kitchn, we're on the same path.

A version of this post was originally sent to our email subscribers yesterday. To receive Sara Kate's weekly email, sign up in the column to the left or click here. Something tasty will arrive in your inbox every Thursday.

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Sara Kate is the founding editor of The Kitchn. She co-founded the site in 2005 and has since written three cookbooks. She is most recently the co-author of The Kitchn Cookbook, to be published in October 2014 by Clarkson Potter.

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