Is Mindful Eating the Secret to Healthier Office Meals? Google (and Harvard) Seem to Think So

Posted by on Friday, August 15th, 2014 with 0 Comments

Yesterday I violated my own advice on healthy office meals, and had a working lunch right at my desk. I had a lengthy email that I’d been putting off writing, so I sat down with my bowl of leftover Pad Thai, a dish I’d been looking forward to all morning (lunchtime even came a little earlier than normal since I was so eager). I took a delicious first bite, and started writing. And just before I hit “send,” I stuck my fork into an empty bowl with a jolt of disappointed chagrin.

I’d eaten my entire lunch without even noticing. I was so wrapped up in what was happening on my laptop screen that I missed out the entire experience of enjoying my food, not to mention the chance to disengage from my work and give my mind a chance to reset and recharge in the midst of a busy day. Beyond the first bite, I was paying zero attention to the food on my plate and the experience of eating. It was the epitome of mindless eating, and the total opposite of a new movement that’s gaining popularity among nutrition and weight loss experts: mindful eating.

employee eating lunch in front of computer

Mindful eating is about unplugging and focusing on your food, and yourself.
Image source: Flickr user katsommers

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is the practice of paying close attention – undivided, in fact – to the experience of eating. When you eat mindfully, you slow down and focus on the flavor of your food, the texture, and the way your body is nourished by consuming it. Mindful eating can also include contemplating and being grateful for how your food came to be on your plate: thinking about the field or farm where the ingredients came from, the sunlight that enabled the growth of the plants, even the hands of the cook that prepared it.

Talk about a far cry from wolfing down some Pad Thai while you type an email. If mindful eating sounds a little Buddhist-y, that’s because it is. The practice has its roots in meditation and the practice of mindfulness, but the concept is being embraced by secular researchers and workplace wellness experts. When millions of Americans struggle with eating too much or not being able to control their weight, the idea of slowing down, paying attention to what you eat, and really examining its impact on your body has the potential to be a game-changing kind of “diet” strategy – one that’s really about having a healthier relationship with food, rather than a quick-fix or gimmicky cleanse.

Mindful eating is not just for monks

The National Institute of Health has studied the effect of practicing mindful eating in obesity-related behaviors (like binge eating and emotional eating), and in diabetics who struggle to maintain a healthy weight – and it works. Google, the corporate king of data-based decision-making when it comes to food and employee wellness, hosted a day of mindful eating talks and training from the Vietnamese Zen monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who literally wrote the book on mindful eating. His coauthor? A nutritionist and lecturer from the Harvard School of Public Health, Lilian Cheung

Mindful eating & office meals

Mindful eating can be especially helpful in the workplace. Between our computers, our iPhones, and our coworkers, it can be really tough to find time during the day to take a real break… and those breaks are key to both ongoing mental health and our productivity. It may seem counterintuitive, but taking time away from your work will help you work more efficiently the rest of the day. Mindful eating requires that you unplug, and put your attention on your food – and yourself.

The team makes it easy for you to have wholesome, healthy office meals delivered right to your door – but the rest is up to you! If you find yourself experiencing the fork-into-empty-bowl syndrome, it might be worth exploring the world of mindful eating. In one of their health newsletters, Harvard supplied a helpful “starter kit” on mindful eating. And there are some excellent Youtube videos from Thich Nhat Hanh’s visit to the Googleplex – both a four-minute introduction to mindfulness at the workplace, and a three-hour version, for those of you who don’t have any plans this weekend.

Just don’t eat your lunch while you watch.

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