Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn, or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” -Denis Waitley
What people usually mean when they say “gratifood” is the process of applying gratitude to food. Infusing appreciation into what we eat, being mindful every step of the way, and practicing awareness that food is something to be thankful for.
Step 1: Get connected to each step of the process.
Gratifood begins before you start cooking. It begins before you decide what’s for dinner. It begins in your mind as a mental checklist of all the things that have to happen for you to be able to eat.
If you think for a moment about all the steps food takes before it ends up on your plate, you will instantly feel more connected to the process. Taking it a step further, if you specifically think about each step your food has taken to get to you, the more and more and more you will feelappreciation.
AJ Jacobs, author of “Thanks a Thousand,” realized how much he took for granted his morning cup of coffee. So, he set out on a journey to thank all the people that make his morning ritual possible. What he quickly realized is that the amount of people to thank is infinite: every person he thanked would not have been able to do what they do without the help of countless other people. Everyone from the cashier that rings him up at the grocery store, to the roaster, to the farmer, to the truck driver, to the workers who maintain the roads. He thanks a thousand people in the book, and the ultimate moral of the story is that there are far more people to thank than he possibly could in one lifetime. And that’s just for one small daily ritual–coffee.
Getting connected to the process starts by asking, “If I trace this food—say it’s peanut butter—back to where it began, where does that take me?” As AJ found out, there is an infinite number of components to thank, and there’s no need to do this process of thankfulness ad-nauseum. At some point during the process of cooking, remember to bring to mind the fact that it’s a series of small miracles that you have the variety and quality of food that you do.
When you become aware of the infinite level of thanks you can give for any given food item, and you begin to apply that level of gratitude to the many ingredients you use in any given meal, you can begin to feel an appropriate level of appreciation for the food you’re about to eat.
Step 2: Pour your heart’s loving energy into the food.
Even if it means taking longer to cook, allowing your day’s pent-up positive energy to overflow into the process of cooking can transform the way you make food. Cooking can be a structured outlet into which you can process those positive emotions. And yes, positive emotions need to be processed too! By creating a meal this way, you can transfer your positive emotions into a new form–food–and experience them all over again! One of the most powerful positive emotions you can use to enhance this effect is gratitude. It’s not necessarily about what you eat as much as it is about how you eat. Eating starts before you take the first bite. We all know this and if we need proof, all we have to do is conjure up the image of a brimming mug of hot chocolate and imagine touching it to our lips for the first foamy sip, tasting the sweet cocoa powder and cinnamon.
Step 3: Curate your dining environment.
At this point we’ve learned to put appreciation, love and thanks into the different steps of cooking in order to create a meal that’s infused with gratifood. Now it’s time to set the stage. It’s encouraged to create a space in which you feel comfortable eating. A place where you can complete the act of eating with full presence and little distraction. It’s important to consider everything from ambiance, lighting and decor to the types of utensils you eat with.
Did you ever consider you might appreciate your meal more simply by changing the dishware you’re using? It makes sense that you would enjoy your morning beverage more if you are drinking it from a mug that you bought specifically because looking at it brings you joy! You should be able to tell the story of everything you own, and especially the items you use to eat with. Because unlike a baseball glove or pair of pants, you are ingesting the energy of that plate or bowl every time you eat.
And just because the word energy is used, that doesn’t it make it woo-woo. Extending your mindfulness about eating to what you cook with and eat off of can have measurable health benefits. Did you know that changing the type of pan you cook with can help oxygenate your blood? Every time you cook with a cast iron pan you’re boosting your iron intake. Since iron is an essential nutrient that every cell in the body needs to transport oxygen in the blood and myoglobin in muscles, it’s safe to say that the type of pan you cook with has the power to make you a healthier person.
Step 4: Eat with others and if you are eating alone, eat alone.
Now that the meal is ready and the stage is set, it’s a good time to customize the gratifood experience based around who you are eating with.
If you are eating alone, make sure to commit fully to eating alone. Understand that you can experience gratifood just as much alone as you can at a communal meal. Make sure to eliminate distractions. There’s some gray area here and use your good judgment. If you are going to consume content while eating, make sure whatever music you are playing or podcast you are listening to contributes to the feelings of gratitude and appreciation you’ve cultivated thus far.
Remember, digestion starts before taking the first bite. Having content playing in the background, especially video can change your focus in way that inhibits proper digestion. Think about it. Ever watched a suspenseful movie and actually felt it in your body? You’re hanging on the edge of your seat with a pit in your stomach and breathing shallowly. You’ve experienced how the type of content you’re consuming can have real effects on your physiology. And if the content puts you in a fight or flight physiological response, you can see how it would disrupt digestion, which occurs optimally when the body is in a rest and relaxation state.
If you have nothing to distract yourself with, your food becomes your company. You will chew your food well, enjoy every bite to the maximum, and significantly slow the rate at which you eat. You will get to know your food like a close friend.
Did you know it can take up to twenty minutes for the body to send signals of satiety? Most people’s meals don’t even last that long! If you eat slowly, you will probably end up eating less, which in most cases is a good thing. Mindful eating allows you to more appropriately gauge when you should stop eating based off the body’s satiety versus the default gauge people usually use, which is stomach fullness.
Step 5: Dedicate the first 10 bites you take.
I’m going to step in to the first person here for a moment and tell you a little story. It takes place in a rural county in Virginia, at an off-the-beaten-path retreat center called Yogaville. I stayed there for one month during the summer of 2015. Everyone living at the facility and doing the work trade program ate communal meals together. The big meals would be served in a dining hall, and prior to taking the first bite, we would usually go around in a circle and everyone would dedicate the first bite of their meal. This was our version of gratifood. Sometimes we would go around in the circle and we’d do several of these very slow, grateful bites before we started eating at a normal pace. This allowed us to thoroughly infuse each bite with appreciation.
Know that if you take nothing else from this article, if you remember the 10 bites rule, you will be practicing gratitude. Before beginning to eat at your normal pace, eat ten bites mindfully and slowly. Between each bite, bring to mind someone or something you are grateful for and dedicate that bite accordingly.
The five steps to practicing gratifood are your friend. Start small, but make sure to start somewhere. A great place to start is by choosing one of the five steps that resonate most with you and apply it to one of your meals this week. When done on a regular basis, mindful eating has the power to change your thoughts, emotional state, and physical health.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Tim Brogan. Tim is currently an Ithaca-based yogi and traveler whose motto is “step into your purpose and share it with clarity.”