Ethical Eating

by Donna Waddell

This presentation was delivered at Mountain Light UUC on 2009 April 05 and was kindly provided by the speaker.

I first became aware of the concept of mindful eating as a strategy for weight loss. It was clear to me that part of my excess calorie intake was due to mindless eating. You know what I mean: munching on popcorn while watching TV; nibbling while cooking a meal or eating leftovers when there's not enough for another serving; standing in front of the refrigerator, looking for the meaning of life, or eating McBurgers driving down the highway. Regardless, I was referred to the web site The beginning of my remarks will be taken from this site:

"Mindfulness is simply the moment-by-moment awareness of life. But it's not always so simple. We so easily get caught up in our own thoughts and self-talk that we are scarcely aware of life as it passes us by. This is very true of our eating. We eat meal after meal, snack after snack, barely aware of what we're eating and how much we're consuming.

Mindfulness is a return to paying attention to life. When we pay attention to our food – really pay attention – we begin to notice all sorts of wonderful aspects of the food, and we become aware of how much we're putting into our bodies."

A basic strategy of mindful eating is The Mindful Bite

  • As you bring food to your mouth, slow down and become aware of your movements.
  • Once the food is in your mouth, clear your hands. Put silverware or remaining food down.
  • Chew this bite with your mind in laser-sharp focus on the process. Concentrate on the taste of the food and the act of eating. Don't do anything else while you're chewing. Simply chew and pay attention.
  • Keep chewing until the food is uniformly smooth. Use this consistency of the food as a signal to swallow.
  • After you swallow, but before you bring more food to your mouth, rest for a few seconds, thereby inserting a pause into your eating.

With the Basic Mindful Bite as our fundamental technique, we can approach mindful eating in four ways:

  • Arriving at food – We realize that we are in the presence of food, and that we have careful work ahead. Before each meal or snack, we take a moment and simply notice the food and consider it.
  • Awakening to the Food – We notice every aspect of the food itself before, during and after eating it.
  • Tuning In to the body – We pay attention to our own bodies as we eat. We notice the movement of muscles, limbs, fingers, lips, teeth and tongue. We tune in to our level of hunger. We're in touch with need for food and we know when to stop eating.
  • Service with food – We extend our mindfulness to any function in the service of food. This includes such activities as setting the table, clearing the table, washing dishes, putting away dishes, shopping for food and preparing the food. All are done with attention and wakefulness."

Another web site is The Center for Mindful Eating ( "Mindful eating has the powerful potential to transform people's relationship to food and eating, to improve overall health, body image, relationships and self-esteem. Mindful eating involves many components such as:

  • learning to make choices in beginning or ending a meal based on awareness of hunger and satiety cues;
  • learning to identify personal triggers for mindless eating, such as emotions, social pressures, or certain foods;
  • valuing quality over quantity of what you're eating;
  • appreciating the sensual, as well as the nourishing, capacity of food;
  • feeling deep gratitude that may come from appreciating and experiencing food

Mindful eating draws substantially on the use of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness helps focus our attention and awareness on the present moment, which in turn, helps us disengage from habitual, unsatisfying and unskillful habits and behaviors. Engaging in mindful eating meditation practices on a regular basis can help us discover a far more satisfying relationship to food and eating than we ever imagined or experienced before. A different kind of nourishment often emerges, the kind that offers satisfaction on a very deep emotional level.

Over the past 25 years, mindfulness practices, in general, have been shown to have a positive impact on many areas of psychological and physical health, including stress, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and heart disease. More recently, evidence is building that validates the benefits of mindful eating for treatment of the obesity as well as binge eating disorders. The benefits of mindful eating are not restricted to physical and emotional health improvements; they can also impact one's entire life, through a better sense of balance and well-being.

It is said by some that "If you resist, it persists" or that which we resist, persists. So, if we crave a food, say chocolate, and we resist that craving this will only increase the craving. Have you ever eaten every healthy bite of fruit, vegetable, and whole grain in the house only to end up at Dunkin Donuts anyway? In the context of mindful eating the desire for chocolate would not be resisted. Instead, it would be recognized and honored. The chocolate would be eaten mindfully. [See the mindful bite above] which rules out inhaling it mindlessly which is how most of us have consumed food that we have been craving for some time, especially when we have been trying to resist the craving.

Engaging The Sacred: Helping to integrate wisdom into the meal.

Every tradition has elements of wisdom from which we can benefit. The material included here comes from many sources that offer different lenses through which we can experience and taste mindfully at mealtime. The areas of focus include these four categories:

  1. Rituals surrounding food and eating – what rituals do we observe around food?
  2. Connectedness with individuals at the meal – do we value the family dinner? Why"
  3. Community by which food is gathered and shared – locally grown, knowing the people who produce our food.
  4. Blessings surrounding food and eating – gratitude for the food, the rain, the sunshine which was required to grow the food. (from

Mindful Eating

by Thich Nhat Hanh
Unified Buddhist Church

Mindful eating is very pleasant. We sit beautifully. We are aware of the people that are sitting around us. We are aware of the food on our plates. This is a deep practice. Each morsel of food is an ambassador from the cosmos. When we pick up a piece of a vegetable, we look at it for half a second. We look mindfully to really recognize the piece of food, the piece of carrot or string bean. We should know that this is a piece of carrot or a string bean. We identify it with our mindfulness: "I know this is a piece of carrot. This is a piece of string bean." It only takes a fraction of a second.

When we are mindful, we recognize what we are picking up. When we put it into our mouth, we know what we are putting into our mouth. When we chew it, we know what we are chewing. It's very simple.Some of us, while looking at a piece of carrot, can see the whole cosmos in it, can see the sunshine in it, can see the earth in it. It has come from the whole cosmos for our nourishment. You may like to smile to it before you put it in your mouth. When you chew it, you are aware that you are chewing a piece of carrot. Don't put anything else into your mouth, like your projects, your worries, your fear, just put the carrot in.

And when you chew, chew only the carrot, not your projects or your ideas. You are capable of living in the present moment, in the here and the now. It is simple, but you need some training to just enjoy the piece of carrot. This is a miracle.

I often teach "orange meditation" to my students. We spend time sitting together, each enjoying an orange. Placing the orange on the palm of our hand, we look at it while breathing in and out, so that the orange becomes a reality. If we are not here, totally present, the orange isn't here either.

There are some people who eat an orange but don't really eat it. They eat their sorrow, fear, anger, past, and future. They are not really present, with body and mind united.

When you practice mindful breathing, you become truly present. If you are here, life is also here. The orange is the ambassador of life. When you look at the orange, you discover that it is nothing less than fruit growing, turning yellow, becoming orange, the acid becoming sugar. The orange tree took time to create this masterpiece.

When you are truly here, contemplating the orange, breathing and smiling, the orange becomes a miracle. It is enough to bring you a lot of happiness. You peel the orange, smell it, take a section, and put it in your mouth mindfully, fully aware of the juice on your tongue. This is eating an orange in mindfulness. It makes the miracle of life possible. It makes joy possible. The other miracle is the Sangha, the community in which everyone is practicing in the same way. The woman sitting next to me is also practicing mindfulness while eating her breakfast. How wonderful! She is touching the food with mindfulness. She is enjoying every morsel of her breakfast, like me. We are brother and sister on the path of practice. From time to time we look at each other and smile. It is the smile of awareness. It proves that we are happy, that we are alive. It is not a diplomatic smile. It is a smile born from the ground of enlightenment, of happiness.

That smile has the power to heal. It can heal you and your friend. When you smile like that, the woman next to you will smile back. Before that, maybe her smile was not completely ripe. It was ninety percent ripe. If you offer her your mindful smile, you will give her the energy to smile one hundred percent.

When she is smiling, healing begins to take place in her. You are very important for her transformation and healing. That is why the presence of brothers and sisters in the practice is so important. This is also why we don't talk during breakfast. If we talk about the weather or the political situation in the Middle East, we can never say enough.

We need the silence to enjoy our own presence and the presence of our Dharma brothers and sisters. This kind of silence is very alive, powerful, nourishing, and transforming. It is not oppressive or sad.

Together we can create this kind of noble silence.

Sometimes it is described as "thundering silence" because it is so powerful.

Now, let's practice some mindful eating.

First, let us come into the present, the powerful NOW.
Place both of your feet on the floor.
Close your eyes.
Focus on your breath.
Let your thoughts flow.
Breathe from your diaphragm. Focus on the breath.
Feel the life force in your hands. Feel the tingling.

Now, open your eyes and let's say a prayer of thanks for the food we are about to receive. Privately, say thank you for the seed, for the sun, the rain, and the nourishment for the food. Say thank you to the people involved in planting, harvesting, transporting the food from the field to the table. Say thank you to the people or person who prepared the food for your consumption. Food is a gift of love from all of these people.

Now, select a piece of food, a grape, a carrot, or a slice of apple.
First, look at the fruit. Regard it's color, shape, size, and texture. Anything else you notice?
Second, pick up the fruit and feel it with your fingers. Is it smooth? Rough? Dry? Wet?
Now, smell the fruit? Can you smell the rain and the sun? Close your eyes as you take in the fragrance. Breath deeply.
Place the bite of fruit in your mouth. What does it taste like? What does it feel like in your mouth?
Now, chew with laser-sharp focus. Continue to chew until there is uniform consistent smoothness.
Now, swallow and pause. What are you experiencing? How is your body responding?
Any reactions?

Now, select a tangerine. Go through the same steps. Use all of your senses to experience the tangerine. Now, peel the tangerine. Observe the feel of the pith, seeds, and membrane. Taste the meat of the fruit. Savor it. Inhale the fragrance. Breath deeply.

Look at your companions.


Be Happy.

Be at peace.