One aspect relating to the French way of eating which, once adopted, really helped me, was being fully present and mindful as I eat.
Although mindfulness is trendy these days, it’s hardly a new concept. Ideas like patience, living in the present moment and practicing gratitude stretch back to ancient Buddhism.
The French, as a culture (and the Japanese too, from what I’ve experienced) have always eaten this way. It wasn’t until the 20th century, though, that applying the concept to, say, eating a slice of pizza in America became popular. Which is wonderful, because, the practice of mindful eating can be applied anywhere (geographically) and to any food.
A practice as simple as mindfully eating a raisin, with all five senses, can be a sensational experience. So mindful eating is universal and it’s free. The French have always done it, eating mindfully, with an intuitive sense, forms part of their cultural tapestry. What’s not to love, right?
Yet, what does eating mindfully mean exactly? And how does it differ from the concept of “intuitive eating”?
In my mind, being more mindful when we eat starts with minimizing distractions during mealtimes. When I lived with a French family in Paris, one thing that stood out was that the TV was always turned off at mealtime and no phones were present at the dinner table. Mealtime is sacred time to connect with each other and savor the food shared at the table.
Perhaps unconsciously because the habit is so deeply ingrained, the French, as a culture, tend to experience their food with all five senses, eating slowly and chewing more thoroughly.
Mealtimes are not rushed or something to be “gotten out of the way”. Moreover, it’s the time of day when everyone comes together, surrounded by good food, to share stories from the day and to converse about topics of interest. There are, inevitably, often some passionate debates too, because, well, the French are passionate people.
Relaxing at the dinner table, means we take smaller bites and set the utensils down between bites. We may sip some wine or water in between mouthfuls. There is also a certain sense of gratitude for the food, such as rhapsodies about the flavorful tomatoes or a delicious cheese.
Baguette is passed around, as is the salad. There is always a protein simply served, whether it be meat, poultry or fish and often with a tasty sauce or simply Dijon mustard. There are healthy fats present, such as olive oil, real butter and cream sauces and yoghurt to finish. Fresh fruits of the season, whether its berries or peaches are enjoyed with enthusiastic delight.
Eating more mindfully has proven positive effects, beyond just helping us enjoy our meals more. Research has linked increased mindfulness to weight loss, better self-management of type 2 diabetes and a reduction in binge eating and emotional eating behaviors.
Intuitive eating is, by differentiation, a concept which aims to free people from the damaging beliefs about food (such as, that fat or sugar is bad), with the goal of establishing judgement-free eating. It teaches us to eat in response to physical hunger and satiety cues while also being aware of emotional eating.
Intuitive eating helps us to cultivate the ability to notice and identify sensations of hunger, fullness and satisfaction as they arise in the body. Intuitive eating encourages us to cope with our emotions with kindness and to honor our health with gentle nutrition (as opposed to military) and to make peace with food. It teaches us to respect our body and to reject the diet mentality.
Intuitive eating, therefore, is associated with higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of body image concerns and psychological stress around eating. While weight loss is not the goal with intuitive eating, the body trust that results often is associated with a lower body mass index.
When we find food freedom and have less guilt around certain foods and eating, our relationship with food is transformed in a positive way.
Mindful eating and intuitive eating are by no means mutually exclusive. Both philosophies address the ways our mental state can influence our food choices, and our satisfaction levels during and after eating. In my mind both practices, help us to cultivate an “off switch” when it comes to knowing when to stop eating, naturally.
Used in tandem, the upside is infinite and we reap the benefits of staying in the present, eating when we are truly hungry, stopping when we are pleasantly satisfied and thoroughly enjoying each bite.
G'day. Welcome to my blog, where I write about mindful eating. My name is Sally Asher and I'm a wellness author of three books. I hold a Health Science degree and have a passion for behavioral change. I live between South Florida and Melbourne with my husband and two teenagers. My husband and I run a real estate investment company. I love to help people eat mindfully and reconnect with the innate, intuitive sense of eating that we are all born with.