By Dr. Mercola
If you want to make your food taste better, and more thoroughly enjoy the experience of a meal, it may be as simple as performing a ritual first, according to new research from the University of Minnesota.
Singing ‘Happy Birthday’ before eating birthday cake is one example, but the beauty of this finding is that it works for healthy food too, giving simple strategies you can implement today to get more enjoyment out of your food.
Ritualistic Behavior Enhances the Enjoyment of Eating, Improves Flavors of Food
If you’ve ever wolfed down a meal while working, driving or engaging in another task, you probably didn’t feel too satisfied afterward, and this is partly because you didn’t take the time to sit and savor your food.
Along these lines, researchers conducted a series of experiments to test whether performing a simple ritual before eating makes the food more enjoyable, and in each case, the answer was ‘yes.’
- Participants who broke an unwrapped piece of chocolate in half and ate one half before unwrapping and eating the other half rated the chocolate more highly, savored it more, and were willing to pay more for it than those who ate it however they wanted
- Those who waited to eat carrots after performing a small ritual enjoyed them more than those who had no delay
- Simply watching someone perform a ritual, such as making lemonade, was not effective at improving its taste, which suggests personal involvement in the ritual process is key
How You Can Harness the Power of Rituals
The researchers concluded that rituals may have such an impact because they force you to become more involved in the experience at hand:
“Rituals enhance the enjoyment of consumption because of the greater involvement in the experience that they prompt.”
Rather than simply eating a bar of chocolate, for instance, stopping to feel the texture in your hands, breaking it into smaller pieces and waiting to savor each bite slowly is likely to enhance your enjoyment, even allowing you to feel more satisfied by eating less chocolate.
Of course, this should work for other foods, too, like a bowl of steamed broccoli or a handful of nuts or berries. It’s not so much the food that matters, it’s the ritual beforehand. So you could try shaking the nuts in your hand before eating them, or placing your berries in an attractive dish first to make them taste even better.
This might also mean that as you take steps to prepare your food, such as making homemade fermented vegetables, the preparation ‘ritual’ will enhance your enjoyment of them, providing extra incentive to spend more time in the kitchen (a major benefit for your health!).
This also helps explain why certain foods seem to taste so much better at certain times of the year, such as on Thanksgiving or other holidays that involve long-held traditions. This can backfire, too, though, if you’ve become accustomed to watching TV while you snack on chips, for instance. In this case, breaking the ritual may help you to break your reliance on an unhealthy food.
Giving Thanks Before Eating
One of the most rewarding rituals you can do before a meal is to stop and give thanks for your food. Not only might this make your food taste better, but also people who are thankful for what they have are better able to cope with stress, have more positive emotions, and are better able to reach their goals.
People who give thanks before they eat also tend to eat more slowly and savor the meal more so than those who do not, lending a natural transition to mindful eating, as described below.
It can bring your family together too, and it’s even been shown by visionary researcher Dr. Masaru Emoto that human thoughts and emotions can alter the molecular structure of water, with positive emotions, such as gratitude, leading to beautiful crystalline structures within the water. Your food, of course, contains water, so giving thanks before you eat may actually be able to transform your food in beneficial ways that are only beginning to be understood.
Being Mindful When You Eat
Practicing "mindfulness" means that you're actively paying attention to the moment you're in right now. In terms of eating, this means you’re focused on your food and you’re really taking the time to chew, taste and savor each bite that goes into your mouth. Mindless eating would be the opposite. Similar to engaging in a ritual beforehand, being mindful when you eat forces you to slow down and makes you feel more connected and involved in your eating experience. There are other ‘side effects’ too, as when you eat slower you give your brain time to register that you’re full, so you’ll likely eat less.
Taking the time to thoroughly chew your food also allows you to absorb more nutrients from your food, helps you maintain a healthy weight, allows for easier digestion, and leads to fewer digestive issues like gas and bloating, all while allowing you to actually taste your food before you swallow… a novel concept if you’re used to eating on the run.
Using Rituals to Establish Healthier Habits
Rituals can be extremely powerful in all facets of your life, especially if you use them to help create healthful habits. For instance, if you want to start getting to bed earlier, washing your face and brushing your teeth can be the ritual you use to trigger your earlier bedtime. Another example would be to spend time journaling, meditating, sipping herbal tea or even changing into loungewear when you come home from work as a ‘ritual’ to de-stress from your day and switch gears into relaxation mode.
Getting back to eating, a simple ritual like lighting a candle or two and setting your table can signal to your family that it’s time for a meal together. Saying grace or giving thanks before you eat, as mentioned, is another ritualistic way to enhance the enjoyment as you eat.
The opportunities to harness the power of rituals are truly endless, and only you can determine which rituals will be the most meaningful and productive in your own life. Chances are you have quite a few rituals already, and taking a few moments to create more is a simple way to live better.