For the first time in a while, I actually tasted what was on my plate
I’m sitting on a pillow in my new makeshift meditation sanctuary in my living room. The soundtrack guides me through what feels like an eternity of examining, touching, and smelling my food of choice—a clementine—then letting it sit on my tongue. Finally, about six minutes later, I’m instructed to take my first bite. “So much information taken in that we usually miss because we’re just thinking about stuff,” says Puddicombe’s voice (he’s the virtual coach). I think of my own eating habits—snacking as I walk to the subway or spearing ziti onto my fork without even looking down as I dine in front of the TV—and how I little I truly tune in when I eat.
“It’s amazing how often when we eat food we’re rushing to get to the next piece and then the next piece…until we finally run out and wish we hadn’t rushed it so much,” he adds. After completing the 10-minute recording, I’m amazed by all the details I’ve never picked up, like the way the fruit’s pith tangles together between segments and how vibrant its orange color is. But I’m also dreading the long week of clementine contemplation ahead.
I’ve now devoted 30 minutes of my life to this citrus fruit and only made a three-clementine dent in my massive bag. Today, before breakfast, I decide to mix it up with a mini yellow sweet bell pepper. As I snap it open, I watch the vegetable’s liquid bubble ever-so-slightly. Touching the smooth texture of the exterior, I feel relaxed. After eating my regular breakfast tortilla, I feel truly full and note on the clock that it took me seven minutes longer than normal to finish. By the end of day two, I notice carving out this time for meditation has infused more reflective moments into my day. I took a phone-free walk around my block before work and began the app’s “Take 10” series, a brief daily practice to teach you the foundations of meditating.
I’m an omnivore, but I mark my calendar with a red “V” on days I manage to stick to a vegan diet. Tonight, I notice three little Vs are lined up. I’m not sure if this has anything to do with my meditation progress, but I wonder if the app can work wonders on guilty pleasure foods. I immediately grab a hunk of Parmesan and spend ten minutes smelling, petting, and finally eating it. I’m inspired by the teachings to take three breaths before my first bite, and decide this is a ritual I want to do before every meal to shift mindframes. After the exercise, I can’t say my craving disappeared, but I certainly ate much less than I normally would and didn’t feel painfully full afterwards. I also had to cross out my bright red “V.”
In the name of research, I decide to take a stab at mindful drinking. I follow the now very familiar words of my good friend Puddicombe as I sip slowly on a glass of the Dreaming Tree’s Sauvignon Blanc. Normally, when I sling back this $14 vino, I’m on autopilot since it’s my go-to dinner wine. Somehow I’ve been completely oblivious to its incredible nose: Is that freshly cut grass I detect? Normally, I down two glasses during an episode of Schitt’s Creek. And, while drinking typically inundates my mind with impulses—what would happen if I ordered pizza? Texted that ex? Had another glass of wine?—after my 10-minute sitting, I’m completely content. The tension in my forehead seems to melt away, my chaotic mind slows, and, one episode later, I’ve still only consumed half a glass.
I’m 1,746 miles from home in Austin, Texas, and eager to see if I can keep the practice up while on the road. When eating out somewhere I’m excited about, my urge is often to snap a photo and then inhale my food. I’m joined by a friend for appetizers at the Azul Rooftop Pool Bar. So as not to mortify her, I opt to leave my phone in my purse and work through my first self-guided pre-meal meditation. The edamame with smoked sea salt seems like a good food to start reflecting upon and a welcome change from clementines. A few small plates later, I’m enjoying orecchiette with pesto, tomatoes, and Manchego cheese. I ask the waiter, “Is that pesto made with arugula?” “You could tell!” she replies.
Today, I’m in San Antonio. As I wander the city’s River Walk, my senses seem to pick up on more details than normal. Why do puffy tacos smell so good? How come there’s no trash on the street here? Do all Hyatt hotels have the same atrium-centric design? Does traveling make us pay more attention to how we eat or is the meditating paying off? Thinking I’m hungry for lunch, I decide Café Ole will be a good pitstop. As I sit down, I hear Puddicombe’s voice in my head: “Engaging our senses allows us to make genuine changes to our diet and sense of well-being instead of being so easily led by our pangs, stress, emotions, and cravings.” I realize I’m not hungry; I ate breakfast an hour earlier. I’m confusing my anxiety over some looming deadlines with a hearty appetite for fish tacos. I chug a glass of water, place a $5 bill on the table, and head on my way.
Later on, I find myself at another rooftop bar and, for the first time in my life, I order a virgin cocktail. I’m not sure if it’s the meditation thing or the insane sunset views, but I swear I still catch a buzz.
I’m looking for an afternoon snack at Market Square, an open-air plaza lined with food vendors, restaurants, and shops. That’s when I spot a sign for gorditas, and feel an inhuman urge to sink my teeth into the fluffy, gritty goodness. Seven dollars gets me a massive gordita brimming with refried beans, salsa, onions, and flecks of hot sauce hiding in the cornmeal shell’s crevices. A live western band is playing “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” The smoky embers from chicharrónes stands are blowing in my face. I stand under a storefront, relishing the last bite as sauce drips down my chin, and I know this will be a food memory that stays with me for years to come. That’s when I realize—shit!—I forgot to meditate.
One Month Later
A month after my week-long experiment, I’m still taking three deep breaths before each meal, and I haven’t had a single meal at my desk. I also continue to kick off my day with a walk around the block, sans cell—a few moments of solitude I really look forward to, and I carve out a few minutes a day for the “Take 10” series. While I don’t do the guided eating meditation sessions before every meal, I flip them on from time to time. Especially when I’m going to a social event or out to eat, I find completing the recording beforehand helps curb overeating and cues me to be more mindful throughout the evening. Perhaps most surprisingly of all, I still like clementines.