Mindful Eating: How Eating Rituals Enhance Consumption

Savor the Flavor - Mindfulness & Eating Rituals

“If you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.” – Kahlil Gibran

Eating rituals take a variety of forms, from blowing out birthday candles before having a decadent slice of birthday cake to preparing your morning cup of coffee in just the “right” way. These sorts of eating rituals can become so expected or habitual that you might not even notice the ritual exists in the first place.

Recent psychology research by Vohs and colleagues (2013) suggests that eating rituals play a greater role in how we perceive, enjoy, and savor food than we may have realized. In fact, performing eating rituals prior to consuming a meal can even result in the food tasting better. Researchers found this to be the case for foods as diverse as chocolate and carrots.

Relationship with Food

Take a moment to consider your current relationship with food, preparing meals, and consumption. Do you typically view food as a source of nourishment and sustenance to maintain energy throughout the day? Do you tend to use food as a resource for emotional comfort or self-soothing? Do you generally operate on automatic pilot for much of the day, eating food when you have a moment of spare time?

We have all developed different relationships with food and ideas about the meaning behind food, meals, and eating rituals. Some of us have learned to always leave an empty plate on the dinner table; others have learned that meals are a time for loved ones to gather and talk about the day’s events; some people have learned that food symbolizes love and nurturing… or a lack thereof.

Try to pause and reflect on your current eating rituals and habits. Do you have a particular way you like to spread butter or jam on a piece of bread? Do you notice that you always take a certain amount of your favorite food out of the container before eating it? The little eating rituals that you perform prior to consuming a snack or meal might not seem like much in the moment, but it turns out that these little behaviors can have a significant impact on your overall enjoyment of the food… even the “healthy” stuff.

Eating Rituals Enhance Consumption & Savoring

Take a look at these recent psychology research findings on how eating rituals enhance consumption (Vohs et al., 2013):

(1) Participants who performed eating rituals described food as more valuable, flavorful, and worthy of savoring than participants who did not perform ritualized behavior prior to eating.

(2) A delay between an eating ritual and consumption significantly heightens one’s perceived enjoyment of food.

(3) Performing an eating ritual oneself enhances overall consumption more than watching someone else perform the eating ritual.

(4) Eating rituals enhance consumption as a direct result of personal involvement in the experience.

How mindfully engaged do you typically feel when preparing and consuming food? The idea is not to judge your attitude or behaviors toward food and eating as “good” or “bad,” but rather to develop a more mindful attitude toward your relationship with food and eating rituals. When you pause to examine your personal patterns and tendencies with openness, curiosity, and nonjudgmental awareness, you are taking a crucial step toward cultivating a more enjoyable and balanced relationship with food.

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Note: The eating rituals discussed in this article refer to behaviors that increase engagement, savoring and mindful eating. Sometimes eating rituals are associated with eating disorders and other health concerns. If you are concerned about potentially unhealthy eating rituals or eating disorder warning signs, consultation with a specialized physician or mental health professional may be helpful.

Resources:

Vohs, K. D., Wang, Y., Gino, F., & Norton, M. I. (2013). Rituals enhance consumption. Psychological Science.

Featured image: Pink Summer Cherry Love by Pink Sherbet Photography / CC BY 2.0

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