Recently it occurred to me that there may be a connection between modern day mindfulness and having table manners drummed into me as a kid every time we sat at the dinner table.
I don’t know about you, but each mealtime I heard:
“No sweety, we will not be watching (insert favourite tv show here) while we eat dinner.
“Sweety, you just sat down – why are you in such a hurry? Please slow down and chew your food.
“Sweety, you’re still chewing. Please don’t talk with your mouth full.
“Sweety, please take your elbows off the table and sit up straight so your food can digest.”
I had this from all angles – my parents, grandparents … anyone who was older and wiser it seemed.
At the time, all these mealtime rules seemed unnecessary and a big waste of time, because obviously as a freckly-faced 12-year-old I had a busy social life with places to be and people to see. Looking back with a little more wisdom up my sleeve, it seems that they might have been on to something. Was the point of learning table manners to provide the foundations for mindful eating?
Perhaps. This led me to wanting to explore this a bit further and look at the connection between modern day mindfulness and the childhood experience of learning table manners.
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is a type of mindfulness that originates from Buddhist meditation practices Baer RA. Mindfulness-Based Treatment Approaches : Clinician’s Guide to Evidence Base and Applications. Burlington: Academic Press; 2014. Mindfulness has two components. The first is about being completely present in that moment and being aware of your thoughts and the feelings of your immediate surroundings. The second is an attitude of openness and curiosity to whatever changes may occur in that moment and being able to attend to those changes in a non-judgemental and accepting manner.
Mindful eating adopts the practice of listening to internal body cues to recognise hunger and satiety signals. This can help lead to striking the right balance between eating for nutritional needs, as well as for pleasure. With practice, people can adopt a more consistent mindful state in all daily activities which can lead to improved mental healthBaer RA. Mindfulness-Based Treatment Approaches : Clinician’s Guide to Evidence Base and Applications. Burlington: Academic Press; 2014.
According to the Centre for Mindful Eating, the principles for mindful eating involve being in the present moment paying attention to your thoughts and physical sensations in your surrounding environment. This awareness of a person’s inner and outer worlds really allows them to connect to their thoughts and emotions, which according to Buddhist philosophy and psychology can decrease destructive emotions such as anger and increase positive emotions such as happiness and compassion Chiesa A, Malinowski P. Mindfulness-based approaches: are they all the same? Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2011;67(4):404-24. This approach is being used to help people overcome disordered eating to promote positive behavioural changes Kristeller J, Wolever RQ, Sheets V. Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training for Binge Eating: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Mindfulness. 2014;5(3):282-97.
After thinking about what this meant, I discovered that this goes to the very heart of the nightly mealtime routine where Mum would ask me all kinds of questions that at the time seemed annoying, but now seem a genius way to fully appreciating what we’re eating and why.
Maier Family dinner table rule #1:
Put any distractions away before you come to the dinner table, please. No, you can’t bring your book.
Are you hungry? I’ll only put a small amount on your plate if you’re not very hungry, but you can have more if you would like.
Do you like the smell coming from the kitchen? It’s a new spice that I’ve put on the chicken. You’ll love it.
Secondly, mindful eating allows us to connect to our body to listen to internal body cues and recognise physical hunger and satiety signals. It can provide the perfect combination of eating food for enjoyment and health as well as aid digestion and absorption of nutrients.
This principle also seems to align perfectly to Mum’s insistence that I shouldn’t inhale my food nor talk with my mouth full during the meal. Again it seemed that Mum’s advice to simply slow down and enjoy the meal was another excerpt from the mindful eating playbook.
Maier Family dinner table rule #2:
Are you enjoying your dinner? Please eat it slowly and chew your food properly. You’ll enjoy it more!
Also, elbows off the table and sit up straight, please. This will help your food digest Do you want indigestion?
Ok, if you feel full, please place your knife and fork on your plate and sit quietly until everyone else is finished.
Tell us about your day at school?
Thirdly, eating mindfully can help tap into the immediate sensation of taste. Taste buds decrease their sensitivity after relatively small amounts of food Hetherington MM, Rolls BJ. Sensory-specific satiety: Theoretical frameworks and central characteristics. American Psychological Association; 1996. p. 267-90 and through eating slowly we can recognise how tasty something is in the first few bites. This can lead to a greater awareness of distinguishing between “like” vs “need” signals Kristeller J, Wolever RQ, Sheets V. Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training for Binge Eating: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Mindfulness. 2014;5(3):282-97, as well as acknowledge our response to the flavour (like/dislike/neither) without judgement. Mindfulness focuses on re-engaging feedback systems and as such, can help make sure that we really really enjoy that chocolate brownie/cinnamon donut/sweet potato fries and in potentially smaller portion sizes.
Again, I think back to how why Mum would encourage me to eat slowly, savour the flavours and be really aware of what I was eating and how my body was responding as I ate. This was all about tapping into the sensation of taste!
Maier Family dinner table rule #3:
Don’t tell the chef you don’t like the food on your plate. Try this new vegetable and if you’re not comfortable with the taste, simply put it to the side.
Yes, you can have ice cream for dessert, but a small bowl. No, you don’t need a big bowl to fill your second stomach – you only have one stomach and it’s full, so a small dessert will be enough for you tonight. But if you eat your dessert slowly you will enjoy it more.
In all our parents’ and grandparents’ wisdom, it seems that what we learnt at the dinner table as kids may indeed have some crossover to mindful eating practices.
Mindful eating can be practicing differently by everyone, but at its core is slowing down each mealtime and being truly present in the moment, which can allow us to trust our body’s wisdom to make food choices that will satisfy and nourish us Kristeller J, Wolever RQ, Sheets V. Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training for Binge Eating: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Mindfulness. 2014;5(3):282-97.
At first glance, this practice can seem challenging, especially when we all live such busy lives, and I certainly haven’t quite mastered it yet. However I do feel like I’ve got a head start after years of enduring the Maier family dinner table rules, but at least now I have a newfound appreciation for how hard the chef worked and I’ll be the one who has to confiscate remote to turn off the Netflix.
References [ + ]
|1.||⇪ab||Baer RA. Mindfulness-Based Treatment Approaches : Clinician’s Guide to Evidence Base and Applications. Burlington: Academic Press; 2014|
|2.||⇪||Chiesa A, Malinowski P. Mindfulness-based approaches: are they all the same? Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2011;67(4):404-24|
|3.||⇪abc||Kristeller J, Wolever RQ, Sheets V. Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training for Binge Eating: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Mindfulness. 2014;5(3):282-97|
|4.||⇪||Hetherington MM, Rolls BJ. Sensory-specific satiety: Theoretical frameworks and central characteristics. American Psychological Association; 1996. p. 267-90|