Being Mindful While Being Sociable

I enjoy getting together with friends for a meal or dining with new people when I travel, but not surprisingly, I often find I’ve eaten without paying much attention to my food. And it’s usually at a restaurant where it’s nice to have something different for a change or a holiday gathering, when I’ve spent a good amount of time (usually two days) preparing a special meal. For me, in particular, these are special occasions because let’s face it, as a low-carbohydrate vegan, my restaurant choices are limited, and the number of friends willing to embrace my regimen as a challenge rather than a trial is, well, even more limited. So during these times, I especially want to pay attention to and savor what I’m eating, but I also want to enjoy the company. Finding a balance is the key.

Too many times I’ve left a meal feeling like I haven’t tasted anything I’ve eaten, and sometimes even end up feeling full without realizing how much I ate, though I barely remember putting food in my mouth. Since I want to relish every meal experience, over the last few years I’ve starting making a special effort to mindfully eat while being good company. It’s a lot easier with a group of people, rather than with just one person, but even that is possible.

In Turkey, they make stews in these sealed ceramic pots, which the server breaks open at the table. Well worth paying attention to this excellent dish.

First, I work on being aware when I put something in my mouth and tasting it. It’s difficult to consistently do, but I put down my utensil in between bites as a trigger to remind myself to be more cognizant of my actions. (This is always a good rule of thumb, but because I’m better about being aware when eating at home or in my office, it works out well for me in public as a reminder.)

This health plate I got in Thailand was just as flavorful as it was beautifully presented.

Second, I make an effort to eat slowly. That way, if I’m not fully enjoying it at that moment, there will likely be left-overs that I can take and enjoy for another meal. Of course, this is different when eating at a friend’s house, where asking for a doggie-bag would seem odd. But, if you have awesome friends like I do, who make extras so we can all have left-overs (especially at holiday gatherings), there’s a second chance to enjoy what I might not have been able to fully appreciate the first time around.

This vegan restaurant in Peru served this amazing seitan saute in a light sauce which inspired me to replicate it at home.

Third, and especially when I’m traveling, I work to remind myself that it’s quite likely I’ll never have the opportunity to have this food prepared this way ever again. It serves as a great incentive to really pay attention to the experience. In fact, when most people at the table are enjoying the food, it’s not difficult to find time to exclusively focus on what I’m eating. And if the food is mediocre, I just eat enough to stave off hunger and leave the rest to spend more time appreciating talking to my fellow travelers.

The holiday season, i.e. The Feeding Season, offers many opportunities to practice these tips to work on establishing good habits. I’ve come to more thoroughly appreciate what I eat, much more consciously embrace the experience, and consistently maintain a healthy weight. It’s getting close to New Year’s Resolution time, when life changes tend to be on everyone’s mind, so what better time to be mindful while being sociable?

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