We toast at weddings. The bride and groom cut the wedding cake and then feed it to each other before the guest can partake. If I were to say today’s menu consist of, turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie–what holiday immediately comes to mind?
These are all examples of customary American food rituals we observe during special occasions or events. Food or eating rituals are a historical part of our society and can often be traced back for hundreds of years. But did you know that eating rituals can affect your physical and mental health? That’s right, it’s not just what you eat that can affect your physical and mental well being, but also how you prepare and or consume your food.
Rituals are simply a prescribed manner in which things are done. Recently, a series of investigations by psychologists have revealed intriguing new results demonstrating that rituals can have a causal impact on people’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors and overall mental health.
How to improve mental health using eating rituals
Eating rituals refer to any compulsory behaviors around food; including food prep, consumption or any situation where prescribed behaviors involving food or eating are involved. Healthy food rituals are intended to establish good habits and healthy attitudes towards eating and not used as a means for control nor should they become overly compulsory and obsessive– which is common with eating disorders.
Here are a few suggestions on how to improve mental health using positive and simple eating rituals.
1. Eating with gratitude
A lot of religions have a practice of giving thanks or providing a “blessing” for food before it is consumed. This practice assists in establishing and engraining an “attitude of gratitude” into your heart and mind. Gratitude has been proven to combat depression, increases inner peace and provides an overall sense of well being and quality of life.
Eating with gratitude can take many forms. It can take the form of a prayer or expressing thanks for daily provisions. It can take the form of expressing appreciation to the preparer and servers of the food. It can also be as simple as taking a moment to pause and reflecting on those without adequate food and clean water, and being grateful for what you do have. The point is to allow gratitude to seep into your heart and you will reap countless benefits.
2. Keeping a food journal
This does not have to be something that is done daily or for every meal, but periodically tracking what you eat allows you to be aware and accountable of your food consumption. It also provides you the opportunity to connect and asses the types and amounts of foods you eat with your mood. It can provide valuable insight into when you may be more stressed than you are consciously aware of, allowing you to take practical steps to reduce stress and restore emotional balance.
Food journaling is also a powerful tool in tracking the types of foods you are eating. Are you getting enough whole foods, calcium and fiber? Are you consuming too many artificial sweeteners or caffeine? The types of food you eat does weigh heavily on how you function mentally and tracking your food is a quick and easy way to pinpoint changes you need to make.
3. Eating slowly and chewing food twice as long as normal
This is one of the best ways to be fully present during your meals and snacks. We combine eating with so many activities and we rarely take the time to just simply sit down and eat a meal. Eating slowly and chewing your food a set number of times or just longer than usual allows for overall better digestion of food, helps with portion control and it allows you to truly savor the flavor of your food. Allowing yourself time to mentally detach from all activities except enjoying the food and concentrating on the physical act of eating helps relieve stress and allows the brain a small mental break.
4. Eating in silence
Besides being extremely peaceful and calming; eating in total silence is another way to experience the act of being completely present. All of your senses are more in tune. As your tongue rolls the food around, you engage your sense of taste and the feel of the textures in your mouth. The olfactory senses are connected to the mouth and therefore the sense of smell is actively engaged. Eating silently is a great way to give yourself a mental break and it’s great for the reduction of stress. You actually get to hear yourself chew your food, allowing you to focus on eating slowly and more deliberately.
Actively learning how to improve mental health and well being by understanding and deliberately engaging in one or two eating rituals best suited for you will provide you with numerous benefits. This will assist you in becoming more aware of your eating habits and become an active participant in improving and maintaining your psychological and emotional well being.