Secrets to a More Mindful Relationship with Food
by Donald Altman

Personally, I am always amazed at how food serves as a powerful healing medium for those who struggle with food. One path that leads to healing and balance is, amazingly, an ancient one: mindfulness. How can you develop a mindful relationship with food? Well, it is one of those elusive concepts that everyone talks about but is really understood through practice. I have created a unique 7-step food journey to learn mealtime mindfulness. Practice the following 7 meditations excerpted from my book "Meal by Meal," using one for each day of the week to develop a more mindful relationship with food!

DAY 1: ENTRY - Be mindful of your emotions as you enter today's meal. What is the emotional energy you bring with you? Are you excited to gain sustenance and meaning? Or are you tired and worn out, just going through the motions of eating? You, like all of nature, possess a season, a time for growth and expending energy, or a time for slowing down and repose. If you have been pushing your body and mind hard at work, consider how that will affect your food choices and experience. Does your body need more food, or less? What kind of food does your body truly desire at this moment? Take a conscious breath and listen deeply.

DAY 2: CHOICES - What new, small choice would you like to try today? Your meals represent a series of choices. Each choice is like a step that takes you in a particular direction. Over the years, similar choices, or habits, can lead you far in one direction. Ultimately, though, you are always free to choose another direction. You are always free to take a new step that is beyond habitual choice. What one, small, achievable step can you take today? Even if you choose to eat one bite of a food that you think would be beneficial, it is enough. What would that food be?

DAY 3: PREPARATIONS - Be mindful of even the simplest of tasks. Cleaning the kitchen can be viewed as an onerous chore or approached as a way to cleanse and purify. In the Zen tradition, beginner monks are given easier chores while more experienced monks are given the most menial and demanding chores. Perhaps that is because the Zen masters know that it takes a special kind of wisdom and person to appreciate and learn from that which is most simple, plain and uncluttered. Watch your thoughts and attitudes as you clean your kitchen today.

DAY 4: RITUALS - Be mindful of the miracle of food to sustain your life. When you eat for emotional reasons or boredom, it may be a sign that you seek greater meaning in your meals and your life. Mealtime rituals offer such fulfillment. Consider the story of two neighbors who searched for heaven on Earth: “I have looked for angels and miracles," said one man, "but I've never found anything worthy of God." His neighbor, however, said, "I hear the angels singing in the wind that blows through the fields of wheat, and I find the miracle of God in each fruit and vegetable that sustains my life."

DAY 5: EATING - Practice taking a breath-in and a breath-out when you notice impatience. Have you ever found it difficult to eat with patience and moderation? If so, you are not alone. You need to ask, what is patience and moderation with food? Buddha experienced both extremes of food and eventually he learned the "middle way" that led to liberation. You can, too.

The first step toward patience and moderation is simply watching and noticing when you are impatient. Instead of blaming yourself, take a moment to consciously breathe in and out: Think "Creating a breath" as you slowly breathe in; Think "ending a breath" as you gently exhale. Do this and give yourself the gift of moderation and patience, if only for a few seconds.

DAY 6: COMMUNITY - Be mindful of how each foodstuff connects your to the planet and community. Each meal, each morsel is a gift. That is why even if you are single and eat many meals by yourself, each meal brings you into communion with the community at large. Consider how the Earth provides a bounty of food. Farmers plant seeds and harvest crops. Truckers transport food to local distribution centers. Retailers stock the shelves. This great chain never sleeps.

DAY 7: DEPARTURE - Be at peace with the meal you have just eaten. As one meal ends, another journey begins. What energy fills your body after your meal? Are you drowsy? Alert? Anxious? Guilty? Pay attention to how different foods affect your body. Over time, you become more skillful at making choices that help you transition to your "after meal" stage more easily.

Donald Altman is a former monk and author of "Meal by Meal: 365 Daily Meditations for Finding Balance Through Mindful Eating" (Inner Ocean, 2004, $14.00). He is also author of "Living Kindness" and "Art of the Inner Meal." For more info please visit: www.mindfulpractices.com