Mindfulness with Meals

Submitted by Tammera J. Karr, Ph.D., BCHN

A trend has taken over our modern lives, one very different from our parents’ and grandparents’ time – in particular, the advent in the last ten years of rapid access to news and social media. Twenty-four seven exposure to news – and just plain nonsense – has a deep, and for some, deadly effect on their health.  Heightened anxiety, sleep disturbance, depression, and fear can precipitate heart attacks, increase the risk of cancer, and more.

A growing number of people have lost the ability to step back, turn off, or even take a deep breath. Deep breathing has solid research supporting its effectiveness in lowering cortisol, improving sleep, cognition, concentration, and digestion, reducing high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety. [1]  Our ability to recover, reset, and recharge has become lost in the constant push to bring and do more within our lives.  It is this twenty-four seven availability of stimulation and information that has influenced the marked increase in stress and our ability to be resilient to fear, anxiety, and anger, including in children.

Life consists of making ends meet, family, school, business, dedication to work, and travel. These life experiences all add stress to our lives. Breathing, aging, environmental factors, genetics, and physical activity are also forms of stress – ones we do not always think about as they are factors we can do little to change. In today’s world, we are in a constant fight or flight mode, driving up the stress hormones, constricting blood vessels, and increasing susceptibility to chronic pain and digestive issues. [2]

Besides breathing and sleeping, eating is life’s most vital activity. We cannot sustain ourselves without eating. According to psychologist and author on mindfulness Jon Kabat Zinn, “For the most part, we eat with great automaticity and little insight into its critical importance for us in sustaining life and also in sustaining health.” [3]

In our fast-paced world, attentiveness to the things you “have to do” takes on a greater priority than what is going on internally. “Slowing down” is a foreign concept, especially when it comes to food. We eat in our cars and in front of the computer, with an action that may resemble more closely a starving animal’s ravenous eating or a mindless robot then that of one savoring a nurturing meal with thanks. We pride ourselves on doing several things simultaneously, considering multi-tasking a more efficient method. We may not even care that multi-tasking registers as stress in the mind and therefore, triggers a stress response throughout the whole digestive response in the body.

When we eat while under stress or when experiencing busyness or unpleasant emotions, it affects not only what we choose to eat, but how we digest our food. Headaches, food sensitivities, chronic pain, GI complaints, and loss of cognitive elasticity associated with stress have markedly increased in American, becoming the leading causes of missed work days.

Grace before meals and meditative prayer has a very long history throughout global cultures. These practices share a flow similar to that of resting breathing; even rhythms of music found in worship/meditative services have similarities to breathing patterns.  Modern research on yoga was the first investigation into supporting prayer and meditation as having a positive biochemical response on health. [4] [5] The slowing down of breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which governs healthy digestion.

The Benefits of Blessing Food

Blessing food brings about a state of presence and mindfulness. Showing gratitude over a meal allows you to stop and be present. From this state of undistracted presence you will eat mindfully and enjoy the food more. It turns every meal into a holy time of rest and recovery.

When you eat mindfully you become more in tune with the food and your body. You’ll know if what you’re eating is beneficial for you. You’ll be unmistakably aware of the signals your body is sending you to stop eating, making it harder to overeat. Mindful eating can help break compulsive eating and food addictions if done consistently at every meal.

The hypothalamus, thymus gland, and brain function of individuals who practice mindfulness show more elasticity and resiliency to the impact of stress. [6] The positive effects on the HPA access and chronic illness result even when genetic factors are present in a contemplative individual versus those with no self-care/belief system. Contemplation and introspection have been part of human existence so long, it may even be coded into our DNA. Regardless of one’s belief system, those who practice prayer, meditation, and chants can stimulate a slow deep breathing response, calming brain chemistry and stress hormones allowing them to weather periods of disaster, strife, and upheaval with greater flexibility.

So my challenge to you in these stress-filled times is to make space for self-care through mindfulness at meal times: 1) At mealtimes, turn off the TV, Ipad, phone, or radio. 2) Give a moment to quiet the mind, breathing deeply through the nose once, twice, and 3) then give thanks for the food before you, for the hands that grew the food, and those that prepared the meal. 4) Express gratitude for the gift of health it provides your body. We are but feathers on the breath of God…

Hildegard von Bingen




“Listen: there was once a king sitting on his throne. Around Him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honor. Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground, and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself but because the air bore it along. Thus am I, a feather on the breath of God.”
Hildegard of Bingen 1098-1179

To Peace and Healthy Foods

[1] https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/yoga-for-anxiety-and-depression
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396/|
[3] https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/mindfulness-helps-us-digest-and-enjoy-our-food
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3193654/
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5455070/
[6] https://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/31/health/31pray.html

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