Practicing Mindful Eating Amid the Chaos of Travel

Mindfulness is a basic concept of much of Eastern thought, and it has recently made its way into the larger consciousness of the West— especially around our relationship to food and eating.
According to The Center for Mindful Eating, a person’s relationship to food reflects and shapes how each of us feels about ourselves and the world, which can make eating an optimal path toward transformation or an obstacle to it, depending on what that relationship entails.

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When you engage in mindful eating, food is eaten with attention and awareness, so that the subtleties of a meal are fully experienced, its origins considered, the tongue, belly and body’s reaction to it savoured and noticed, and the reasons for eating it acknowledged.
The harried pace of contemporary life makes mindful eating a challenge for even the most diligent practitioner, but the chaos of travel ups the difficulty quotient considerably. That being said, practicing mindful eating while travelling is even more preferable, as it will enhance your experience of a culture, its history, and its people even more.

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If you’re a frequent traveller interested in digging into the present moment wherever you might be, here are a handful of suggestions to help you practice more mindful eating.

1. Limit Distractions

For the busy or weary traveler, mealtime can play second fiddle to what may seem like more essential concerns, like discussing plans with your travel companions or looking over an itinerary or map. While multi-tasking in order to experience as much culture as possible can seem like a wise choice, aiming at efficiency alone will ensure your goals of mindful eating go out the window. And ironically, eating without attention will cheat you out of one of the richest cultural experiences most countries have to offer: their unique cuisine.
So, whenever you eat, do so with as few distractions as possible. Sit down; put your phone, tablet or laptop away, and focus your mind and senses on the task and tastes at hand. Give yourself a leg up by beginning this practice before you leave home. As soon as you start researching the best prices for your flights — and have some great deals — make a point of limiting distractions at every meal and with every snack, so that by the time you hit the air, you’ll have a habit in place.

2. Give Yourself Enough Time

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Another way mindful eating can be shortchanged when traveling is through time restrictions. Because travelers often want to stuff in as much as possible while in a new place, time becomes something against which one is always racing, which causes travelers to rush through eating in order to get to the “important” things.
To stay ahead of this potential pitfall, commit to considering, welcoming, and enjoying every morsel of food you put into your mouth. Schedule eating within your itinerary — even that croissant at 6 a.m. — and honor it the same way you would a concert, museum tour, or other time-sensitive attraction.


3. Attend Each Bite

Once you’ve committed to limiting distractions and allowing yourself the necessary time to experience your food, it’s time to narrow your focus to the food itself. With each bite, notice the look, aroma, temperature, texture, color, mouth-feel, and taste of what you are eating. As you swallow, feel the food inside of you. Does it make you feel light, airy, or refreshed? Does it make you feel heavy, warm, or comfortable?
Whether you’re eating a five-course meal or a single slice of real Italian pizza, continually bring your awareness back to the food on the plate, on your fork, in your mouth, and in your body. Your meal will take longer, but your appreciation and experience of it will expand your understanding of where you are.

4. Consider the Source

As a traveler from afar, you may not know how food is sourced, grown, and cooked in the place you are visiting. When you can, ask questions of waiters, cooks, street vendors, and locals. Find out about how food is grown and cooked. Are there small farms around that supply restaurants, groceries, and bakeries with what they need? Are there fishermen who bring in fresh fish each morning?
Part of being a mindful eater is knowing where the food you eat comes from. Investigate, and you’ll find that your meals take on new meaning and significance.
Mindful eating isn’t something that’s achieved in a day — especially while on safari in Africa or in a gondola in Venice. It’s a practice that takes patience and intention that, with time, can transform your self and your experience of the world everywhere you go.

This article is contributed by Jeska, a North American traveler who is dedicated to seeking and exploring her very own continent to find all the hidden treasures it has to offer.