mindful MEal time

Mind the gulp..

Ok, so I am totally guilty of eating breakfast AND lunch at my desk at work most days of the week.  And I am not alone; in fact it is the culture at my job.  When I look around, everyone in the cubicles around me are shoveling in bites between paper shuffling and phone calls.  Many of the meals that I eat alone at home are spent swiping through my phone like a zombie or in front of the T.V. At a restaurant when I look around not only are the solo eaters mesmerized by their phones during mealtime, but the people in groups usually have their faces in their screens too!

I think there are a lot of factors that have created this culture- our general addiction to screens, the belief that we need to feel busy and productive at all moments of the day and a general discomfort of being alone with our own thoughts.  I have been reading a lot about mindfulness and productivity lately and it has made me acutely aware of my own habits that I am now keen to change. 

First I want to address this from a productivity standpoint.  Like many others, I have created the fallacy for myself that I just don’t have time to sit down and enjoy a meal.  If I don’t bang out this clinic note while I mindlessly eat my lunch, there is no way I am leaving the office at a reasonable hour.  Well, I am calling my own bullshit.  The more I read about productivity, the more I realize this just isn’t the case.  Many of us pride ourselves on multi-tasking, it’s a quality that is requested in most job postings and there are apps to help us become better multi-taskers, but really, it is inefficient and ineffective.  We might feel productive because we are ‘doing more’, but in reality we are accomplishing less.  We are far more productive if we focus on one task at a time and see it through to completion before focusing on the next task. If we prioritize properly, there is zero need to multitask.  So eating my lunch while I work is not effective, instead it diverts my focus in two different directions.  It takes me longer to do something while I am eating than it would otherwise and provides me little time to actually enjoy my food.

Now on to mindfulness.  How many times have you scarfed down a meal without even really tasting it, smelling it and savoring it?  Paying attention to the food you are putting into your body, chewing slowly and savoring each bite and chewing more actually improves digestion (less bloating, better assimilation) and can help with weight control.  When you eat too quickly (in less than 20 minutes) you can end up eating more since it takes your brain a few minutes to catch up with your stomach’s cues that it is full.  Also, mindless eating is pretty much guaranteed to leave you feeling less satisfied than if you tune in at mealtime, which makes you more likely to reach for that sugary processed snack around 3pm. 

I took mindful eating on a quick test drive recently and slowly ate a salad at lunch in Central Park. It was a salad that I order often from Just Salad on workdays, but I was probably 100% more satisfied after savoring it in the park than I am after eating it at my desk. 

I have about 7 weeks left at my position as a nurse practitioner at Memorial Sloan Kettering before I take off on my next big adventure, and I am going to gift myself with at least 134 platefuls of mindful eating.  Unfortunately on Fridays my clinic template is scheduled straight through from 7 am-4pm, so I am lucky if I get to eat anything in one sitting, but I am going to make this pledge to myself for every meal with the exception of breakfast and lunch on Fridays.  No desk, phone, computer, T.V. or anything else to distract me or make me feel falsely more productive during mealtime.  I predict that I won’t end up leaving work any later as a result of actually taking a break for breakfast and lunch and I will feel infinitely more satisfied with my meals. I will probably returned to work after lunch with more focus and mental clarity. I also predict some moments of discomfort because I am not used to being truly alone with myself during mealtime, whether at a restaurant or at home.  But I know this will pass and my mind, digestion and productivity will be better for it.

I extend this challenge to you: at least one day a week (but hopefully more) step away from your desk during lunch, get some vitamin D, thoroughly chew each bite, but your fork down for a hot second between bites, avoid all distractions and honor the nourishment that fuels your body and brain.  I would love to hear about your experiences.

Mangia! Mangia!