Growing up Catholic, I always said grace with my family before having a meal. These days, the notion of me saying a pre-meal prayer feels a little disingenuous, given the way my religious beliefs have veered over the years. Religion aside, though, I totally understand the value in adopting a gratitude practice before eating. As Arianna Huffington points out in her sleep-focused plan for Well+Good’s ReNew Year program, taking a moment to consciously breathe before meals can transform simple sustenance into a mindful experience.
How? According to Carla Marie Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Joy From Fear, pausing to practice gratitude before eating allows the mind, body, and soul to acknowledge the importance of mealtime—and food itself. And again, adopting a grounding gratitude practice before a meal has nothing to do with religion or whether or not you’re someone who says grace.
“A pre-meal practice of gratitude provides the opportunity to appreciate the time, energy, and effort that was invested in bringing the food from farm to table.” —Carla Marie Manly, PhD
“Whether a person is religious, spiritual, agnostic, or atheistic, a pre-meal practice of gratitude provides the opportunity to appreciate the time, energy, and effort that was invested in bringing the food from farm to table,” Dr. Manly says. “In our busy world, we often take our food—and its preparation—for granted. Prefacing your meals with a simple, grounding ritual of gratitude honors the precious gift—the true miracle—of even the simplest meal.”
So if pre-meal prayers of some kind work for you, do it up! Regardless, though, there are other spiritual ways to center yourself so you can be truly present during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The effect? Potentially happier and more enjoyable meals mealtimes, lower stress, and better sleep. Below, get specific tips for grounding gratitude practices you can try before your next meal.
5 gratitude practices before eating that can help ground you and make mealtime more mindful.
1. Visualize the journey of your meal
Dr. Manly recommends that you pause to imagine the farmlands and fields that gave rise to the food on your table. Think about how much love and care went into the food before you.
2. Pause to breathe in the aroma of your food
Eating food is a multi-sensory experience, and yet most of us tend to focus solely on the sense of taste. Using scent, however, can provide for a more full-bodied appreciation of what you’re about to enjoy. “Close your eyes and use your sense of smell to discern—and appreciate—the various aromas,” says Dr. Manly.
3. Illuminate your dinners
“Light a candle before your meal to honor the efforts that allow you to enjoy the blessing of your meal,” says Dr. Manly.
I recommend using this grounding gratitude practice before eating as a tool to make dinners more romantic, even if you’re chowing down solo.If you wake up while it’s still dark, you might also be able to have a candlelit breakfast. Either way, this is a simple way to make your meals (non-denominationally) sacred.
4. Take a deep breath, in and out
Sometimes we inhale our food without thinking. I get it, but this autopilot approach keeps eating from being a necessary form of self care that should be enjoyed like any other. Taking a more intentional inhale and exhale beforehand will keep you from rushing and will also facilitate appreciation and a heightened state of calm.
“Slow down with a few deep breathes to release stress and prepare your body and mind for a deeper appreciation of the nourishing food before you,” Dr. Manly says.
5. Make an affirmation of thankfulness before you dig in
“Recite a personal-gratitude mantra that feels right to you—one that allows you to immerse yourself for a few moments in true appreciation of the miracle of your meal,” says Dr. Manly. “For example, you might say, ‘May I enjoy every bit of this meal in good health as I give gratitude to all who made it possible for me to enjoy my nourishing meal.’”
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