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Mind Your Plate

Applying mindfulness to the way we eat can profoundly influence the way we metabolise our food. When practiced fully, it is a spiritual exercise that nurtures a greater awareness of the intrinsic connection between ourselves and our environment. In discussion with Brother Phap Lai, a monastic from Thich Naht Hanh’s Plum Village, we discuss the life- affirming practice of mindful eating.

The shape of your body, and the health of your mind, are inevitably a consequence of both nature and nurture in whatever given measure.

Andy Puddicombe, Founder, Headspace
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As a practice long observed by Buddhist monastics, to eat mindfully is a simple exercise in being present. It is the practice of guiding your full attention to the sensation and purpose of every bite. Monastics are encouraged to carefully consider the food on their plate – the scent, tastes and textures, and to think on the symphony of elements that delivered it into being. Through this act of mindful presence, a simple meal on our plate becomes the sum of the seasons, elements and the labour of many hands.


‘Mindlessness’, or the absence of attention, creates a dissonance between ourselves and the food we eat. Accessibility to ‘fast’ food and the psychology of efficient eating means we often eat without presence of mind. In eating without thinking, we diminish the true value of our food, and numb our body and mind to the world around us. This also gives rise to diets marked by overeating and ingesting unhealthy foods.

What gives rise to mindless indulgence? One of the barriers most people face in their pursuit of a healthy lifestyle can be attributed to “habit energy”, or the energy that keeps us moving without real thought to the direction we are heading. In his book Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, Thich Nhat Hanh proposes that “habit energy” can undermine the practice of intention and perpetuate a cycle of mindless activity and thoughtless consumption. Like other unhealthy habits, our relationship with the food we eat is propelled by this same “habit energy”. When we experience a trigger, be it in the form of thoughts or emotions, we seek quick fixes to satiate the feeling. Sadly, the ‘fix’ does not last.


As an antidote to this, mindfulness, or the practice of devoting complete focus on the present, can transform the way we consume, move, and live our lives. When applied to the way we eat, our body and the food on our plates are no longer individual entities isolated from its environment. The process of mindful or ‘wholesome eating’, as explained by Brother Phap Lai, is one that extends compassion, togetherness and respect towards all living beings. We don’t have to wait a lifetime or alter our diet drastically to enjoy the peace that comes from practising contemplative eating. Mindful eating practices can be easily integrated into our everyday lives to  guide us towards greater peace and connection.

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