February 08, 2012

Mindful Eating: You Saw It Here First

Mindful eating has hit the New York Times!

One of our sharp-eyed editors spied this article yesterday in the Dining and Wine section of the Gray Lady: "Mindful Eating as Food for Thought." In it, Jeff Gordinier writes about his visit to the Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, N.Y., where he participated in a silent, vegan, mindfully-eaten lunch, something he found to be "captivating and mysterious." (Afterward, he tweeted, "& yeah I tried this mindful eating thing @ the monastery. Very cool. But not easy. Even putting my fork down was hard!")

But it's not just the New York Times who has trumpeted mindful eating. As Gordinier says in the article,

A mindful lunch hour recently became part of the schedule at Google, and self-help gurus like Oprah Winfrey and Kathy Freston have become cheerleaders for the practice.

With the annual chow-downs of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Super Bowl Sunday behind us, and Lent coming, it’s worth pondering whether mindful eating is something that the mainstream ought to be, well, more mindful of. Could a discipline pioneered by Buddhist monks and nuns help teach us how to get healthy, relieve stress and shed many of the neuroses that we’ve come to associate with food?

Paragraphs like these tend to worry me. I like Oprah. And I think that it would be great if everyone was a little more mindful when they eat. But what I don't like is entering a discussion of mindful eating based on its ability to help someone lose weight or get healthy.

To Gordinier's credit, he strays away from this view, interviewing someone that Tricycle has featured in its own pages: Dr. Jan Chozen Bays, who wrote "Mindful Eating" for us back in 2009.

“This is anti-diet,” said Dr. Jan Chozen Bays, a pediatrician and meditation teacher in Oregon and the author of "Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food." “I think the fundamental problem is that we go unconscious when we eat." (...)

Dr. Bays, the pediatrician, has recommendations that can sound like a return to the simple rhythms of Mayberry, if not “Little House on the Prairie.” If it’s impossible to eat mindfully every day, consider planning one special repast a week. Click off the TV. Sit at the table with loved ones.

“How about the first five minutes we eat, we just eat in silence and really enjoy our food?” she said. “It happens step by step.”

Sometimes, even she is too busy to contemplate a chickpea. So there are days when Dr. Bays will take three mindful sips of tea, “and then, O.K., I’ve got to go do my work,” she said. “Anybody can do that. Anywhere.”

Chozen Bays is also answering reader comments on the NYT website here. So far, this has been my favorite comment, speaking about this picture:


New York Times

Way boring. It is easy to make delicious food from the best, healthy ingredients, and including wine, so that there is a lot of talk, some yelling, and lots of fun. Those pictures do not look fun. Buddhists need to laugh, and yell a bit more. — Johnny D., Washington State

Which, to his credit, made me laugh. So here's one laughing Buddhist for you, Johnny.

In any case, articles like this one always have me on the fence, staggering between happiness that Buddhist practices are making their way into the wider American world and worry that they'll be commodified, branded, and mainstreamed before we can even mindfully eat our lunch. What does everyone think? New York Times mindful eating: good news or bad?


Photo: Jennifer May for the New York Times. http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/08/mindful-eating-a-teacher-responds-to-readers/#more-80967.

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Toko Buku Sunnah's picture

Nice article, thanks for sharing, this articles is really helpful and usable for visitors

ahliherbal's picture

I don't really "get it" with mindful eating, since I'm really is not a buddhist anyway. But one thing I really don't get it is the talk about, losing weight or getting healthy by mindful eating.

As far as I know, we can only get healthy by choosing healthy foods, and doing exercises regularly. Choosing wrong food can cause bad effect such as colon cancer (kanker usus) or other general medical conditions --- I have two posts about it like in here and another one in here.

Another thing, I'm kinda disagree with the statement "...It is easy to make delicious food from the best, healthy ingredients, and including wine...". As we know, alcoholic drinks are dangerous for our health. So, how come it became healthy?

mehlinger333's picture

Emma, I agree with your reservations wholeheartedly. Bringing these practices to the public eye can help many people and hopefully improve our culture, but I'm not sure American culture is ready to receive them well. Like you said, our habit of branding and marketing almost unfailingly corrupts or at least dilutes useful spiritual and personal experiences into something more closely resembling diet pills or get-rich-quick schemes. I don't think our culture as a whole will be able to truly assimilate these practices until we get over our fixation on egos and quick-fixes. One cultural change will predicate many more.

Then again, it's definitely not a bad thing to be planting the seeds. Perhaps I'm thinking too linearly, and like the path we need to work on all of these things at once, not in the fashion of some 12 (or 8) step program.

Thanks for the article!


Emma Varvaloucas's picture

Hi Marshall, thanks for your comment! I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote that you're "not sure American culture is ready to receive them well." I think that's true...it's all about right timing, and I don't really think the right time is now. Then again, how can it ever be the right time if we don't introduce practices like mindful eating into the mainstream, with the hopes that they can produce some of the conditions that American culture would need to receive practices like these well?
Anyway, the questions articles like this bring up always have me thinking in circles. I guess we'll just have to wait and see where this all goes!