The New Gastronome

Mindful Eating

I grew up eating food fast, not fast food. At my house, we always had good homemade dishes, but we ate in a hurry rather than slowly. Being confronted with different realities and cultures, especially while travelling, I started to think about my own food-related identity and began to wonder: What drives us when we sit down at the dining table?


How, when and what you eat are part of your socialization and of those who raised you. My father, for example, grew up in the German countryside during World War II. There was hardly any money, food was scarce and with his own father in the military and a mother who had to feed six children, everything revolved around food. Meals were the most important part of the day. „When there is not a lot of food, you automatically eat fast“, he always told me. This habit was so internalized that he kept it even in adulthood when he had time, money and no reason to fear hunger anymore. He still ate fast and he always finished everything. When eating an apple, he ate it all except for the tiny stem, when eating a piece of meat, only the bone was left. Today, we avoid leftovers for sustainability reasons but for him, the meaning was different: It was the experience of food scarcity combined with the appreciation and enjoyment for what was on the plate, translated into a certain habit. And this habit was passed on to the next generation – to me.


“‘When there is not a lot of food, you automatically eat fast’, he always told me. This habit was so internalized that he kept it even in adulthood when he had time, money and no reason to fear hunger anymore.”


Growing up in a certain way does not mean you have to stick with it forever. You should acknowledge and appreciate the way you were raised but you will create your own eating culture, rhythm and diet over time. If eating is understood as a process of socialization, the following three phases will shape the way you eat:


  • The external shaping – food behaviour learned in childhood (passive phase)
  • The mutual shaping – food behaviour developed in interconnection with the social environment (bilateral phase)
  • The self-shaping – anything from individual food design to your own personal meal habits (autonomous phase)


According to the sociologist Marcel Mauss, food could be looked at as a „total social phenomenon“ because it is interwoven with society beyond recognition. Food behaviour is related to almost all areas of life so that eating and drinking produce complementary reactions everywhere. In an exaggerated way, one can even say that the “whole world” is hidden in food and that it essentially reflects the whole of social life.



The Practise of Mindfulness

Looking at the social environment, we can certainly say that the world has drastically shifted from the 1940s to 2020, where we rush through the day, always on our phones, multitasking. But one thing seems not to have changed in this story: We still eat fast. Just for different reasons.


In this ever-rushing society, people are also longing for deceleration. And this is when mindfulness comes into play. It is defined as the practice to maintain awareness of reality. Although mindfulness is a relatively new term in western society, it is actually based on an old Buddhist concept. Here, it derives from sati, one of the seven factors of enlightenment on the noble eightfold path. In current psychological literature, the construct of mindfulness is often defined as the process of directing „attention“ or „awareness“ to experiences in the present moment. Buddhist teachings, however, go further and state that mindfulness involves not only the act of paying attention to the present moment but also the process of cultivating wisdom.


It is also important to mention the difference between the secular use of mindfulness practices in a non-religious context and the Buddhist concept of mindfulness as part of a holistic religious practice. In any case, elements of this practice, such as meditation techniques or mindful eating, can hold many benefits for its practitioners – in a psychological, physical or health-based way.


Mindful Eating for your Health

Mindful Eating focusses on food choice and the experience of eating. It helps us to become aware of our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations related to eating. Also, it helps to reconnect us with our own sensual and physical needs. The Harvard Medical School even promotes mindful eating as an important part of being healthy: „Mindfulness techniques have […] been offered as a way to relieve stress and alleviate problems like high blood pressure and chronic gastrointestinal difficulties. Applied to eating, mindfulness includes noticing the colors, smells, flavors, and textures of your food; chewing slowly; getting rid of distractions like TV or reading; and learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food.“


Different studies have shown that mindful eating strategies might help in the treatment of eating disorders and mindfulness-based therapy also seems to help people enjoy their food more and have less sense of struggle about controlling their way of eating. The German Society for Nutrition (DGE) suggests mindful eating in their 10 rules on how consumers can eat a balanced and enjoyable diet in everyday life: „Slow, conscious eating promotes enjoyment and the feeling of satiety. The feeling of satiety only occurs about 15 to 20 minutes after the start of the meal. If you eat too quickly, you cannot notice that you may have already eaten enough. Slow, conscious eating and thorough chewing can promote enjoyment, relax and help regulate body weight.“


“Although mindfulness is a relatively new term in western society, it is actually based on an old Buddhist concept. Here, it derives from sati, one of the seven factors of enlightenment on the noble eightfold path.”


Eating well depends not only on the ingredients but also the awareness you give to your food and the act of eating. It is a never-ending learning process based on your food education, your environment but also your autonomous choices. Challenge your habits and go for the experience – turn off the phone, be silent and enjoy. 


Transform your Relationship with Food – the Raisin Technique


One way of practising this new sense of awareness while eating is the raisin technique. Take one raisin in your hand and…

  • OBSERVE: Hold it between your fingers and give it your full attention: observe, look at it and its wrinkles, shadows, colours, surfaces.
  • TOUCH: Rotate it and explore the texture. Press it and feel the resistance. You might even close your eyes if it helps you to concentrate better.
  • REMEMBER: Think about the raisin. What meaning or memories do you connect with it? Do you like it or dislike it, and why?
  • SMELL: Put it under your nose and inhale. Notice the aroma and feel what it does to your body, your mouth, your stomach.
  • EAT: place the raising slowly into your mouth. Put it on your tongue without chewing, feel the sensation.
  • CHEW: How does it feel? Give full attention to the taste and texture and how it changes over time. When you are ready, swallow it.
  • TASTE AGAIN: What aftertaste does it leave in your mouth? Notice your body as a whole, with all its senses.


If you want to try out some mindfulness techniques during a normal meal, you could try the following tips: start by putting away any kind of distraction, that includes watching TV, listening to music or scrolling through your phone. Above all, you should not continue working during your mealtime. Set your timer to 20-30 minutes and take that time to eat a normal-sized meal. For some fun challenges that can ground you in the moment, you could try eating with your non-dominant hand or using different utensils, like chopsticks if you don’t usually use them. Eat in silence and continuously think about the production process of your meal (for example: from the seed to the plant, to the farmer, to the market, to your pan and, finally, your plate). Try to take small bites and chew them well, approximately 20 times per bite. Congratulations, you just had your first dabblings into mindful eating – how did it feel?



Photos ©Aarón Gómez Figueroa


The opinions expressed in the articles of this magazine do not necessarily represent the views of
The New Gastronome and The University of Gastronomic Sciences of Pollenzo.



About the author

Eva Breitbach

She studied German, Sociology and Media Studies and holds a Master's degree in Food Culture and Communications from the University of Gastronomic Sciences. For the past three years, she has also been working for UNISG as a Tutor to develop didactic programs for study trips and food projects all around the world. Now, Eva is based in Berlin and works in the non-profit sector on food education.