Mindful eating has gotten a lot of attention over the past few years as a panacea for improved digestion. Slowing down at the table not only reduces your chance of overeating, it puts you square in the moment to savor every bite. When we think of mindful eating, it's often the monk's image of sitting quietly at a table without distraction, chewing each fork-full 20 times. At a lively dinner with friends this week, I was reminded that mindful eating can be a joyful adventure, too. Here are a few ways to enhance digestion and maximize pleasure when eating out in good company:
Set the intention at the start to fully enjoy the ambiance, the food, and each other. There is no rush. Transport yourself to Europe, where they are naturals at mindful dining.
Stagger your courses as if you are part of a performance. Great theater comes in acts. Order multiple courses as you go to control the pace. Give yourself time and space to "rest and digest" without the risk of overeating. A relaxed stomach is a happy stomach.
Eat with your eyes first. Take extra time to peruse the menu (don't let the waitstaff hasten the process). Share your enthusiasm about the dishes, eye the plates of fellow diners. This is the pre-digestion phase that signals to the rest of the digestive process that nourishment is on the way.
Savor the details. Admire the subtle broth of the mussels, the creaminess of the cheese, the salt of anchovy. Notice how everything is plated and presented. Focus on the colors, textures and aromas.
Fill the spaces between bites. Tell stories, laugh, share memories. Debate who has the best Italian in town. We naturally slow down when engrossed in conversation. We chew as we listen, digest as we talk. Notice your conversation -- is it upsetting or upbeat? One will cause indigestion, one will enhance the experience (and flavor).
Linger longer. Digestion continues well after we put the napkin on the table. Instead of an abrupt ending, pause before hurrying out to the street. Punctuate the evening with a sense of gratitude for the beautiful food and company.