As many of us know from experience, Thanksgiving is often a time to eat…a lot! Just like in daily life, it’s common to eat and eat without even being aware of what we are actually eating. Have you ever looked down at your plate and been surprised to see that all the food was gone? We can practice Mindful Eating to be in the present moment, fully experiencing our meal as we eat it. This helps us to slow down and take time to appreciate the food in front of us, the people around us, and all of the things to be grateful for in this meal. Mindful Eating gives us an opportunity to experience eating in a new way.
We will begin with the actual practice of Mindful Eating and then take some time to reflect afterward. To practice this activity, you will need something small to eat like a raisin, a piece of chocolate, a cracker or a candy. Your teacher or parent might already have something ready for this exercise. Consider this a practice run for things you eat every day.
To begin, find a comfortable seat. Allow your eyes to gently close as you bring one hand to your belly and another to your chest. Take a few moments to check in with your breath. Begin to make your in-breath longer, filling up the belly. Begin to make your out-breath longer too, pulling the belly back toward your spine. Take five more rounds of breath like this before relaxing your hands onto your knees and coming back into the room.
Pass out the edible item, cueing student to take a piece of food and pass it along. Instruct the students to do the following:
Place the food in the palm of their hand. Next, begin to notice how it feels, if it is heavy or light, smooth or scratchy. Pretend this is an food you have never seen before and you are like a scientist trying to figure out what it is!
Next, begin to move the food around between your fingers. Do you notice anything new? Bring the food up to your ear as you move it around with your fingers. Does it make a noise?
Now bring it back down to your palm. Next, we are going to bring the food up to our mouths, but don’t eat it yet! Did you notice that your hand moved it exactly where you wanted it to go? We usually don’t pay attention to the work our body is doing for us when we eat, like when we pick up a fork or spoon and bring it up to our mouths. Maybe say a little ‘thank you’ to your body for working so well!
Finally, place the food onto your tongue, without chewing it. Begin to move the food around in your mouth, noticing it’s texture now, and how it feels against your teeth and the sides of your mouth. Think about the flavor of the food. Is it what you expected? If you eat this often, does it taste any different than it normally does?
Now you can chew the food. Yay! Count the number of times you chew the food, and see if you can get at least ten chews in before swallowing it! Most of the time when we eat on autopilot, we hardly chew our food. This gives our bellies extra work to digest, and also makes it harder for them to know when they are full. When we chew our food more, we have a better idea of how full we are, and might not eat too much as often (this is good if you get tummy aches from being too full).
Once you swallow the food, see if you can feel how it lands in your belly. Notice how it feels to have something new in your belly to digest. Perhaps take a moment to be thankful for that food and that you have so much wonderful food to appreciate everyday.
See if you can practice this exercise at the thanksgiving table with something that you’d normally eat with your hands (like bread or a cookie). Practice Mindful Eating with that food and notice if it changes how you feel about the food you are eating. Most importantly, take a moment to give thanks for the food you have in front of you, and everything it took for that food to get to you. Give thanks for your family who cooked the food, and for everyone at the table. Also give thanks for yourself, for practicing Mindful Eating, and taking the time to appreciate what is around you. A lot of people don’t do that, and it is special that you just did.
Teacher’s Tip: It doesn’t matter what kind of food item you use, but rather that it is small and can somewhat melt in your mouth. You can also suggest that your students practice Mindful eating on a regular basis with everyday foods.
Student’s Tip: Mindful Eating is something you can practice every single day! There are opportunities to practice every time we eat. Try practicing Mindful Eating with something you eat every day and see if you notice anything different about the experience. This is also a great practice to try during other holidays you might celebrate. You can even teach it to your family members.
Adapted from Jon Kabat Zinn’s Raisin Exercise