Eating Experiment No. 3: Preliminary Findings

Eating Experiment No. 3: Preliminary Findings

Eating Experiment No. 3: Preliminary Findings

Outrageous experiments in sensible eating.
Jan. 23 2011 4:02 PM

Eating Experiment No. 3: Preliminary Findings

Goal: To eat mindfully , practicing eating meditation as often as possible. Only a few times did I forget I was supposed to be doing eating meditation, but I always caught myself, though several times I just didn't want to do it.

Ellen Tarlin Ellen Tarlin

Ellen Tarlin is a former Slate copy chief and writer of the "Clean Plate" blog. Her essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, the Boston PhoenixBrooklyn Bridge, Bark, and  the RISK storytelling podcast. Follow her on Twitter.

Loved: Yogurt parfaits with Fage, fresh fruit, and granola, muesli, or Grape-Nuts. Eating fruit and chocolate very slowly is an incredibly pleasurable experience. Having food prepared ahead of time frittata for lunch, chili for dinner makes me very happy. Coffee is back in my life. Also, I love having real plates and cutlery at work to eat with and seeing what my co-workers bring for lunch.


Hated: I'm still lugging too much. Though it doesn't seem like it should be so heavy, the combo of my lunch box, purse, and a book or two is breaking my back.

Having to eat every meal and snack mindfully was too ambitious a goal. I just can't step away from my desk that many times during the workday.

For many years, I have hated sitting at a dining table. I'm more comfortable sitting Indian style (which I guess kids now call " criss-cross applesauce "?) or in half-lotus position . Even when I sit at a table or my desk I try to fold my legs this way it feels more natural than feet flat on the floor. Instead of forcing myself to sit at a tall table, I should just go with my preference: sitting on the floor and eating on a low coffee table. There are plenty of cultures who sit on the floor when they eat.


I hated finding out how quickly I eat and trying to slow down. It felt artificial. Also: dishes. I feel like all I do is load the dishwasher and unload the dishwasher. I know I'm lucky to have a dishwasher at all, but I can't believe how much tableware we use in a day. I can't keep up.


Learned: So much I don't know where to begin.


Instead of thinking of eating meditation as eating, I should have thought of it as meditation. Thus, it's not something I would do every time I eat, but maybe once a day, with a piece of fruit.

I eat incredibly fast and it's very hard to slow down. There are, however, a lot of practices I can try. First of all, when preparing a plate of food, I should make it smaller. Many times I'd fill a bowl then bring it to the table and think, This is a lot of food . I already use smaller plates and bowls, but I think smaller utensils would be helpful too. Maybe I should try eating with a shrimp fork and a baby spoon. I could also try taking a smaller amount of food onto my fork or spoon. I take terribly large spoon- and forkfuls. But any one of these practices would be enough of a goal for one meal, day, or even week.

On the other hand, the perception that I don't have enough time to eat was debunked. Can I really not get away from my desk for five minutes or 12 minutes to eat something in silence? Even going to the kitchen to heat something gave me a few minutes to stretch.


At work, eating lunch at a table with other people made me feel like I actually had eaten and returned me to my desk refreshed and calm. When I snack all day, I don't ever really feel like I've eaten and I certainly never feel calm.

My posture is bad at the table sitting up straight makes a huge difference in swallowing and how your stomach feels and notices the food.

I can, in fact, eat chocolate slowly and it's much better that way. Chocolate should be savored, not shotgunned .

I thought eating slowly would be torturous and unsatisfying, but I ate a quarter-cup of granola only a few oats at a time and it felt pretty filling.


One thing you learn when you do any kind of meditation is that you have "issues," and eating meditation was no different. I was extremely resistant to it . My penchant for eating while multitasking has a lot more to do with my issues than with my lack of time.

TMI Section: I feel self-conscious when I eat alone without doing something else. This is a holdover from college. For the first time my schedule didn't always coincide with my friends', so sometimes I ate alone. Everyone else alone was reading, so I did too. This was when I was young and cute, so if I was out at a cafe or restaurant alone and didn't look busy, men would bother me, so I learned to bury my head in reading and avoid eye contact. When I started dating my husband, I remember thinking how freeing it felt to look up and look at people in restaurants again.

But this was all a million years ago, so why do I still feel self-conscious? My co-workers don't care, aren't looking at me, aren't thinking about me or wondering what I'm doing or why. I have issues with eating itself. In the years when I thought I was fat, I wouldn't even take food out of the bag; I'd just reach in and pull a bite off because I didn't want people even thinking I shouldn't be eating a cookie. It was a means of denying I was eating at all. So eating while multitasking is a way to avoid discomfort. But I don't want to make you walk around in my psyche for too long today. TMI section concluded.


Surprises: I was surprised people at work wanted to eat with me. I thought this so-called eating healthy thing was making others self-conscious about eating in front of me.

Funny Things: One day at lunch at the office, a co-worker said, "That looks pretty good for healthy food."

Conclusion: Fully committing to eating meditation was difficult, but I learned many valuable lessons, and I'm not giving up. If I sit on the floor, set smaller goals, and think of it as meditation rather than eating, I may get more out of it. In any event, slowing down by any means I can is a useful practice.

Next Up: Tomorrow I discuss the external influences that affect the way we eat.