Here is a story you probably don’t know:

Two Zen students were telling each other about their teachers.

“My teacher is a great master who does amazing things. With three strokes of his sword, he can cut an apple off a tree and slice it into quarters before it hits the ground. He can shoot an arrow into the center of a target, then split that arrow with a second one.”

The other student said, “That’s pretty good, but my teacher is a really great master who does really amazing things.”

“What can he do?” asked the first.

“When my teacher walks, he just walks. When he sleeps, he just sleeps. When he eats, he just eats.”

Eating Mindlessly vs. Eating Mindfully

Mindful eating encompasses an entire way of approaching food that will help you take less in.

It seems pretty simple – when you want to eat, just eat. The problem is that we hardly ever just eat.

In this day and age, multi-tasking is the norm. It’s rare that we are only doing one thing at a time. Television, emails, and social networking – we feel like we have to keep up with all of them while we’re working, playing, and eating. Otherwise, we feel like we’re wasting time.

However, multi-tasking isn’t really possible. The mind can only focus on one thing at a time. Everything else goes to the background.

If your mind is elsewhere while you eat, you aren’t paying attention to the flavor of the food or to how full you are. Before you know it, the food is gone, but you hardly tasted it. You ate too fast and too much. You feel stuffed, but not satisfied.

A Damaging Connection

There’s a problem on another level. A connection develops between eating and what you’ve been doing while eating.

Before long, when you start to watch television or surf the web, you’ll also feel the urge to get something to eat. And mindless eating in front of a screen of any kind will undermine your intention to take less in.

Slow Down and Concentrate

Instead, when you eat, just eat. Take the time to eat more slowly, with mindfulness of the taste, temperature, and texture of each bite. You’ll make better choices about what to eat, get more satisfaction from it, and recognize when you no longer feel hungry.

Here’s a surprisingly powerful technique to encourage mindful awareness during meals: To slow yourself down, set your utensils down.

Often, as soon as we’ve put a spoonful of food in our mouth, we start loading up the next bite. Instead, after taking each bite, gently set your utensils down and chew until that bite’s finished.

If you are clenching your fork, you may also be clenching your jaw. When there is tension in your jaw, you can feel it in your shoulders, neck, and forehead. It even extends to your arms, chest, back, and the rest of your body – a tense jaw can make your toes curl!

You may find that when you are holding on to your utensils, you are also holding your breath! When you relax your grip, your whole body relaxes and it’s easier to breathe.

Make It a Habit

To develop the habit of setting your utensils down, have your notepad with you at the table. Each time you realize you are holding on to your utensils and starting to take some food for the next mouthful while you’re still chewing, put the utensils down and make a tally mark.

You’ll soon be more aware and more consistent at setting your fork down with each bite. Here’s a link to an interview where I explain these techniques in more detail.

How often do you just eat without distractions or feeling like you should be do something else at the same time? When are the times you are most likely to multitask while eating? What can you do to make it easier to just eat? Have you tried these psychological techniques before? Please share your experience with our community!