Multitasking, Mindfulness, and Eating

1-59471-305-7{This post is a part of the Cravings blog tour.}

A few nights ago my generous husband, who also happens to be quite the gastronomer, made us a delicious artichoke and mushroom lasagna swimming in a creamy white sauce. The cheese on top was slightly browned and as soon as my husband put my serving in front of me, I dug in. The lasagna was delicious and such a gift since I wasn’t the one who cooked it; yet, eating it, like eating most things in my life lately, was a blur.

I used to be a slow eater. Some of it had to do with less than healthy reasons. I had some strange food rituals in my eating disordered days. I’d break off pieces of bread, for instance, and roll them into tiny balls between my fingers before tentatively slipping the food into my mouth, which prolonged the meal.

I don’t want to return to those strange eating habits where an inner monologue was raving inside of me about how I shouldn’t be eating anything. But I also hate how eating nowadays has become just another “to-do” in my life that I rush through.

Many mothers struggle with eating mindfully – which basically means being aware of what you’re eating, stopping before you’re full, and enjoying your meal as well – because we’re always on the go and we’ve mastered the art of multitasking. We’re squeezing meals in between all the schlepping, the homework, the soccer practices, ballet recitals, playdates, housework, and maybe homeschooling. Or we’re trying to stuff our faces before the baby wants to nurse again or before the 3-year-old spills her milk or the teenager skulks away from the dinner table. I often find myself quickly shoveling in food so that I can make sure I can get adequately fed before someone needs something from me. It’s become a habit, a matter of survival for the hurried mom. Eat as quickly as possible to ensure I’m fed.

Even on the rare occasion when I can eat alone or just with my husband, though, I still frequently find myself eating too quickly. Perhaps this way of speed eating is a relic from my eating disorder past. When I was recovering, it was tough to eat slowly, mindfully because my body was physically afraid that this indulgence of simply meeting a basic need was the feast before the famine. Eat all you can now because tomorrow you’ll be starving again. Then, there were times when eating became therapy, a way to soothe my frayed edges. Stuff the dark chocolate into your mouth – lots of it – and you’ll feel better. And I would feel slightly better for about one minute until I realized I’d eaten an entire chocolate bar and hadn’t even really enjoyed it or tasted it. By all means, satisfy that space in your soul that craves wine, manchego, butter, or gelato – but do it in moderation and please slow down enough to actually savor the indulgence.

But my speedy, mindless munching cannot only be blamed on my distorted eating history or my maternity. There’s something else going on, too. Dinner at our house is a sit-down affair where we do try to talk, and no books, television, etc. are allowed. However, I typically feed my kids their other meals at our breakfast bar since we don’t have an informal dining area off our kitchen. This means I’m standing up when I eat breakfast and lunch. So I frequently find myself nibbling on food while doing something else or several things besides just eating. Maybe I’m checking emails on my iPhone while inhaling a spinach salad at lunch.  I might be reading the kids a story while they sit down and eat and I graze off their plates. Maybe I’m pouring a refill for one of my little ones with one hand while my other hand brings a sandwich to my mouth. Sometimes I read while I eat. Or I’m driving somewhere and eating at the same time.

But if I’m not just eating or maybe just eating and talking and enjoying the company of those I love, then I’m not being mindful about what I’m putting into my mouth. It’s mechanical. There’s nothing satisfying about it except maybe the calories and the energy they give my body. When I’m not focused on the act of eating, it’s also easy to consume beyond the point of physical satiety or to eat for the wrong reasons – because I’m bored, because I’m stressed because my toddler is screeching more loudly than a pack of howler monkeys, because I’m reading email and completely unaware of what’s passing through my lips.

Multitasking doesn’t only rob us of the joy of being fully present and aware of our blessings, including the food before us, but it could be making us fat. I’m not listening to the cues of my body if I’m not even thinking about chewing and swallowing my food. It’s easy to eat more when I’m not even really aware that I’m eating.

A growing body of research is pointing out the ill effects of multitasking – how it leaves us feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and unfulfilled. The technology that allows us to download a song while saying “hi” to a friend on Facebook as the television flickers in the distance and a new text on our Smartphone chirps at us is shaping our minds to process information rather than to interpret it, understand it, or even remember it. The same is true with our eating and our food. If we don’t sit down and slow down our eating so that we can fully taste the the food and enjoy the experience, then we’re just digesting it. Even if there are good nutrients in what we’re eating, even if we don’t polish off the entire sleeve of cookies, it’s still as if we’re still consuming empty calories. Eating should not be joyless, guilt-inducing, robotic, or just another thing we do while driving or texting.

I had the honor of reading an advanced copy of Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God by Mary De Turris Poust, which I highly recommend. It’s an uplifting read for anyone who has struggled with their weight or food and longs for freedom from obsessing over every inch of flesh. In her meaty (lots of food for thought here!) and excellent book, Poust devotes an entire chapter to the dangers of multitask eating and why it’s important to develop a more mindful approach to meals.

She writes,

“For most of us, even the best-case meal scenario is not an exercise in mindfulness. We tend to take a big bite of food and scoop the next bite onto our fork or spoon before we’ve finished chewing the first. All of [this] leads to less-than-mindful eating, allowing us to consume large amounts of food without even realizing it, sometimes without even tasting it.

When we begin to pay attention to our food, really pay attention, we are forced to confront some ugly realities, like how quickly we typically eat, how often we eat while talking or arguing, how little we really enjoy what we’re eating because we’re multitasking. So we come back around to the cold, hard truth: If we want to enjoy our food and feel good about our bodies and our weight at the same time, we have to find a way to go against the cultural grain and slow things down to a crawl.

She goes on to share a ten-step plan on how to eat more mindfully and slowly such as simply looking at your food. That’s right. Check out what’s been presented before you. Pause before digging in. Poust mentions how saying a blessing before eating can also help since it helps put her in touch with God. Shouldn’t every meal, not just Communion, – be eucharistic – an opportunity to give thanks to open ourselves to grace?

My youngest child had his first cookie over Christmas. We hosted a cookie swap at our house, and we were all enjoying a sampling of the treats. He didn’t want to be left out, so we gave him a ginger snap.  (Funny, how my fourth child starts noshing on sugary treats far before my first ever did!) He was so delighted with the gift. He didn’t just eat it. He worshiped it. Watching him savor that cookie was a lesson in mindful eating. First, he licked it. Then he laughed at it. He sucked on it. He put a soggy crumb or two in his hair. He delighted in its taste, its texture, the weight of it in his pudgy hands. Eating that cookie was an experience and a joyful one at that.

Here’s my goal. I’m following my little boy’s lead and am going to really pay attention to my food the next time I eat. I’m going to slow down and experience it. I’m going to focus on its taste and texture as well as enjoy the company of my husband and children without worrying about if I’m going to have to get up to get anyone more milk. I eat healthy. I slurp up green smoothies and serve quinoa, but that doesn’t mean I’m eating the right way or even a healthy way. As someone who has had to work at making peace with her body and food, I’m learning that a healthful diet isn’t so much about what you eat but how you eat it.

Please do check out Cravings. It’s a wonderful, helpful book that will leave you satisfied. I have one copy to give away. Please leave a comment below to be entered to win. You may leave separate comments if you share this post/giveaway on Twitter and Facebook. The contest ends at 8 pm EST on January 25, 2013. Good luck, and happy, mindful eating!!!

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18 Responses to “Multitasking, Mindfulness, and Eating”
  1. Wow, does this ever hit home for me. This sounds like my life loud and proud as far as eating/multitasking. Lots of meditation on this today.

  2. Kris says:

    I can totally relate to the rushed eating. Seems like thats all we do some weeks around here!

  3. Rita says:

    Thank you for this review. This book seems to be hitting home for a lot of us distracted Moms!

  4. Erin says:

    I would love to read this book! Mindful eating is a current goal of mine, as I tend to eat emotionally rather than to feed my body. Eating always has been a struggle for me and I plan on reading this book for sure!

  5. Terri says:

    I love your blog, Kate! It’s funny how God answers our prayers in unexpected, amazing ways. My earnest prayer for the last year or so has been to gain control over what goes in my mouth. I’m overweight and have a real problem with eating to soothe myself. I told God that it wasn’t even about the weight or body image, just disciplining myself to turn to Him for peace instead of a big chunk of cheddar cheese.

    As a mom of nine, meal times can be extremely overwhelming. Last night I had to put down my fork lean my head back and look at the ceiling while I took some deep breaths, just to recenter a little. It’s like a race sometimes. Anyway, your post is very edifying and encouraging. Just reading that someone experiences the mealtime craziness helps–a lot.

    God bless. <3

    • Kate Wicker says:

      Thank you, Terri. I cannot imagine the mealtime mayhem you must often experience. I feel like I rarely get to sit down for longer than a minute without me having to pop up to get something for someone or to help a little one or prevent my baby from smearing all of his dinner into his hair. 😉 I try to approach mindful eating like a lot of things in my life, including my spirituality. I take baby steps and try to give myself the compassion we moms so willingly and frequently give others when I do goof up. Anyway, thank you for your insight and kind words.

  6. Thank you for writing this post Kate! I just had my fourth little girl 8 weeks ago and now have about 10 pounds to lose to fit into my jeans and another 5 to feel like I want to feel when in my jeans. Though I am a health and fitness coach, it has been a while since I actually had to take my own advice and what I find most challenging is the mindless eating. I am nursing an infant and homeschooling and I do find that I shove the food in as fast as I can so like you I can get it done and I don’t actually taste the food nor really know how much I am eating which is key for weight loss. Also like you, I can relate to the disordered eating. I remember when attempting to recover from anorexia in my early twenties, when I was given the green light to eat, I didn’t know how to eat the way my body needed me to. I think we all need to think about this and get in touch with our bodies and make it a goal to be mindful in everything we do, prayer, eating, being with our spouse and children. Thanks again!

  7. Erin says:

    I would really love to win this book!

  8. Christina says:

    I would be interested in reading this. I struggle with mindful eating too.

  9. mary says:

    Hmmmm… maybe this should be our next book club pick?? Glad you’re back blogging Kate! Is it okay if I enter on another blog, too?

    • Kate Wicker says:

      Mary, I think it’s fine to enter on multiple blogs.

      My blogging is haphazard these days, but I feel at peace with it so this is probably the best way for me to blog in this season of my life.

      God bless!

  10. Rebecca says:

    I was shoveling a sausage biscuit and hash brown from McDonalds into my mouth the other day in the 30 minutes I had between tutoring a regular student in 8th grade math and subbing in a 7th grade algebra 1 class and I thought of this and slowed down. I didn’t eat it all either as I ran out of time which was probably a good thing. Thanks!

  11. Susan says:

    Would love this book- thank you!

  12. HA! Now I’m entering on the right post!

    Thank you Kate for your honest writing about craving the RIGHT things, and the struggle to do so. I’m right there with you and all the above! Much love!

  13. Linda says:

    Hi! I’ve been reading your web site for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Humble Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the great job!

  14. Kate Wicker says:

    Contest is closed. Congratulations to comment #10 – AKA Mary!

    Thanks to everyone for reading and entering. God bless.


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. […] Wicker, author of Weightless: Making Peace with Your Body, had this to say about Cravings at her blog today, the fifth stop on the “Pray, Love, Then Eat” blog […]

  2. […] to win a copy of Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God by leaving a comment after this post. Contest closes tonight 8 p.m. […]

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