“He who distinguishes the true savor of his food can never be a glutton; he who does not cannot be otherwise.”
― Henry David Thoreau
Whenever we sit down to eat, we’re always in different states of mind. Sometimes we’re chomping through a sandwich to get to a meeting on time, at others we’re sipping leisurely on wine and letting our forks linger over exquisitely plated dishes of food as we catch up with friends. When we are hungry, we eat quickly in huge mouthfuls, barely savouring our food. On the other hand, we may be eating slowly, but if there’s something on our mind distracting us from our meal, we are not present in the process of eating.
With each scenario, we have a different sense of our food with varying levels of enjoyment. What happens in such cases is we end up feeling a want for more—more snacks, more dessert, more…something. I’ve experienced that one too many times, it’s like I didn’t register having a meal at all! Where were my five senses? That’s when I start craving snacks, and look around the hawker centre (or my kitchen cupboard) for other foods to eat, to fill that void.
Over time, this may become a habit, and a start of mindless eating behaviours (the opposite of mindful eating, which you can find out more about here). One of the ways to be mindful of what you eat is to be present during the eating process, and there’s no better way than to engage all of your five senses once food is placed before you.
Have a look at the dish in front of you. What does it look like? Is sloppily plated but looking very flavourful? Is every component of the dish put on carefully with finesse? Does the food look piping hot, or does it look over-cooked? Is the portion too big, or tiny and measly?
(Or in my case to the left, is it overflowing with sugary goodness and looking very tempting?)
Now take a spoonful of food and put it to your nose. What do you smell? The sharp pungency of cheese, the fiery rush of chilli, or the soothing aroma of chicken soup?
Think about how the smell is making you feel. Does it make you want to have a mouthful immediately, does it smell odd, or would you have to have a taste to find out?
We don’t often touch our food, unless the dish calls for it. This is the case if you’re having things like bread and fruits, finger food like curry puffs and French fries, or certain cuisines like Indian food or Mexican tacos. If you do get a chance to touch your food, observe things like texture and temperature. Is it hard and crispy, or soft and mushy? Is it ice cold, strangely lukewarm, or too hot to the touch?
Next, have a bite of it. Notice the sound it makes as you take a bite. Does it make a crunching noise like when you have chips, or is it squishy like when you suck on bone marrow? Is it supposed to sound that way?
As the food is in your mouth, think about its taste, texture, and temperature.
Does it taste sweet, sour, salty, or bitter? Is it fresh-sweet like carrot, or salty-sweet like butterscotch? Is it sour like lime…or more like berries?
What is the texture of the food like? Is it flaky like pie, smooth like mashed potato, or crunchy like vegetable stalks?
How’s the temperature of the food in your mouth? Burning our tongue, too cold to taste, or just right to eat?
With every mouthful, after each of the five senses, think about how you feel and your judgement of the dish.
What do you think about the dish’s look, smell, taste, or texture? Does it meet your expectations? Are you excited to eat more, or are you turned off?
Then, compare how each mouthful changes how you sense with your five senses. Does it look less appetising because you’ve stirred it around, but tastes better? Has it become soggy and cold with each mouthful, and less desirable than your first bite? Or is it cooked so well that each mouthful tastes as good as the first?
When you start noticing and realising all these things, you start to constantly assess and judge your food like a critique. Just like judges of a singing competition have honed their skills in knowing which singers they want to keep listening to, which ones they want to listen to a bit more before deciding, and which ones they just want to walk away from because it’s not worth their time, you learn to do the same with food. You become more in tune to what you’re thinking, how you feel while eating, and you gain control over your emotions, hunger levels, and cravings. This in turn, will help prevent overeating, or succumbing to cravings.
After learning the steps to savour food, you may realise that after a filling meal of fish and chips, the “hunger” you feel afterwards is actually more of a craving for something satisfying. This was because the fish you had was fishy, the batter soggy, and the fries stale. Just disgusting and disappointing. You did not enjoy it at all, so you feel you need something tasty to make up for your dissatisfaction.
When you use all five senses to savour food, it can help manage your food intake in a two-pronged manner.
One, you realise early on in your meal how you’re not enjoying it and you stop eating the subpar food, thus freeing up calories for better food. Two, you acknowledge that you just had a bad meal, accept that you’re craving good food but are not actually hungry, and decide not to snack but to just look forward to better food at your next meal.
As a foodie, I’m all for savouring and enjoying food. As a dietitian, I’m all for not wasting calories on bad food. Although I’ve definitely had days where my hunger has gotten the better of me as I choose a bowl of piping hot, spicy and rich laksa over chicken noodle soup and slurp it down in ten minutes, I normally try to pace myself and be in the moment when I eat. Even if you don’t care for calories or your weight, just being mindful when eating allows you to enjoy the process much more, to be in control over your eating habits, and most importantly, be in the moment to savour food for all its glory.