Friday, July 31, 2009

The Eightfold Path to Mindful Eating

How ancient Buddhist principles can help us bring a spirit of meditation into every meal

By Carmen Yuen

Too many of us are mindless eaters, to the point that we barely notice what we shove into our mouths. It's nigh time to put down the Blackberry, turn off the TV, and eat--just eat. Taking inspiration from the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path, these eight practical steps help us move from "scarfing on the go" to "dining in the now."

Carmen Yuen is the author of "The Cosmos in a Carrot: A Zen Guide to Eating Well" (Parallax Press). To learn more about her and her work, visit

Food Can Be Our Friend

Food Can Be Our Friend We find the devil in the donut; we constantly worry over what we do (or do not) eat. Must every plate be served with a side dish of guilt? The Buddha taught that there can be an end to suffering--and this applies to our attitude towards food. We can be like we were as children, savoring every bite of our favorite snack. Eating can once again be a source of immense joy.

Reflect on the Origins of Your Food

Reflect on the Origins of Your Food When everything at the supermarket is wrapped in cellophane, it's easy to forget our connectedness to the food we buy. Our choices have a direct effect on the way food is grown. Ask yourself: are the methods sustainable? Are the animals treated humanely? Supporting mindful products--such as free-range eggs and organic produce--benefits both our environment and our health.

Avoid Stuffing the Senses

Avoid Stuffing the Senses We're careful to avoid the candy aisle. But what about the magazines and TV commercials that scream "Lose ten pounds in a week!" and "Easy methods to trim those thighs!"? Mindful consumption extends to the words and images that we let into our minds. Recognize that sensory "junk" will agitate and mislead.

Take the Middle Path of Moderation

Take the Middle Path of Moderation The young Buddha practiced asceticism--and not surprisingly, subsisting on a grain of rice a day led only to disillusionment (and an angry stomach). An offering of nourishing milk-rice helped him realize that inflexibility and dogmatism were at the roots of suffering. Let go of the stress surrounding "forbidden foods" and step onto the Middle Path of moderation.

Cook in the Now

Cook in the Now Cutting an onion and washing the dishes are not necessarily forms of torture. The simple, everyday task of preparing a meal can be an opportunity for meditation. Choose seasonal produce that is bursting with flavor and packed with nutrients. Be present in every action: savor the smell of a cut apple, the texture of chopped walnuts. You may find a great deal of enjoyment in a once-dreaded process.

Share a Meal with Your Sangha

Share a Meal with Your Sangha Traditionally, Buddhist monks worked side-by-side in the garden and ate together in a large dining hall. Sharing a meal is one of the simplest and most effective ways to strength our connections with loved ones and with our food. Try out a recipe with friends; surprise someone with a homebaked treat. The experience can be more satisfying than dining at the priciest restaurant in town.

Pause and Give Thanks

Pause and Give Thanks Your mouth is watering and your fork is aloft... but before you dig in, take a few seconds to breathe. Savor the delicious aroma; reflect on the hard work that has gone into the food, and how grateful you are to receive it. The simple act of pausing reminds us to be mindful of the portions we put on our plate.

Chew, Swallow, Enjoy!

Chew There is a Zen saying: "When you eat, just eat." The act of eating food can enormously pleasurable, especially when we slow down. Chew, swallow, look around, and chew some more. With these simple techniques, you will discover that the path of mindful eating can lead to a peaceful mind.