I recently did an eating workshop for a local organization which included us eating lunch together. As I usually do, we spent half an hour having lunch. The first 15 minutes was an exercise of eating in silence and the second 15 minutes was a discussion about what participants observed during their silent meal. The discussion was pretty much the same one I’ve had with other groups doing this exercise.
I truly wished that I could have videoed those first 15 minutes and maybe someday I will, with the groups permission. What I’d really like to do (but won’t), because it would be far more beneficial for them, is to make a video without their knowing it to capture their natural style of eating. Granted that it’s likely that most participants were a bit self-conscious about eating with others and having me observe them, but I think that self-consciousness disappeared for some shortly after the meal began.
Each prepared meal had a chunk of white bread that came with it. Some people immediately tore into it like they hadn’t eaten in days. Other people set it aside but continued to pick at it when they were done eating. Mind you, it was your average piece of French bread with nothing on it, but very few people left it alone and none seemed to eat it with any relish, in this case, meaning enjoyment. It even seemed as if some of the participants had tuned out eating it while they were chewing away.
Several group members chewed a lot and I couldn’t tell if this was how they normally ate (though I doubt it, as they were in a workshop to learn to eat normally). A few started out slowly, but most had sped up by the time 15 minutes had elapsed. I looked for members stopping eating to take a sip of a drink, but didn’t find many. Most seemed on auto pilot. Honestly, they did not seem particularly relaxed or enjoying their food.
In our post-meal discussion, nearly everyone said that they felt uncomfortable during the exercise, admitting that they rarely, if ever, ate in silence. Indeed, I had to stop the exercise twice to shush group members talking to each other. We discussed why silence made them uncomfortable and most agreed that it was simply because they always ate doing other things. Some members shared that during the exercise they were far more aware of the taste of food than they usually were and liked that. Many talked about being full (or no longer hungry), and not wanting to stop eating because there was still food left. They concurred that the exercise was a valuable learning experience.
If you’ve never eaten in silence while doing nothing but eating, I highly recommend that you try it one meal a day. Do it with an apple or a dish of ice cream, but have the experience every day to build comfort with it. Focus on hunger, taste, texture, enjoyment and satiation. This is called mindful eating.