What are your rituals?
A ritual could be singing a song when you wake up or while you make the bed, lighting a candle or smudging, exercising, reading, writing, saying a mantra, prayer, or blessing before a meal (or any time), opening a bottle of wine, a hot bath with aromatherapy—anything that you routinely do to make you feel content and complete.
In many families around the world, perhaps since the invention of TV dinners and TV trays in the 1960s, both children and adults have become conditioned to eat in front of a screen, distracted from their food. This has become the new ritual!
Among many other healthy eating habits—see my Top 20 Ayurvedic Eating Tips—Ayurveda suggested a sattvic state of mind while eating.
- Sattvic is a state of mind that is fully content, aware, peaceful and calm within itself. It does not require anything from the outside to make it happy.
- Rajasic is a state of mind that requires stimulation to be happy. Satisfaction comes from the stimulation of our senses from the outside world.
- Tamasic is a state of mind that has become overstimulated, exhausted, and depleted. It is inward, depressed, and withdrawn.
Harvard Study Suggests Pre-Meal Ritual Benefits
A study out of Harvard Business School published in the Journal of Psychological Science suggests that a meal with a pre-meal ritual may actually provide a better meal experience than a meal without a pre-meal ritual.
In the study, participants were divided into two groups, ritual and non-ritual.
In phase one of the study, the first pre-meal ritual consisted of the participants cutting a chocolate bar in half. They opened only one half and enjoyed that half. Then, they were allowed to open the other half and eat it—a very simple ritual.
In phase two of the study, a ritual was created around eating a carrot. Participants were asked to hit the table 5 times and close their eyes for 5 seconds before eating the carrot.
In both groups, the carrot and chocolate were enjoyed more as compared to control groups who did not take part in a ritual.
Additionally, participants in the ritual groups took more time to eat and were actually willing to pay more for the carrot and chocolate after the experience of the ritual.
The study demonstrated that when a ritual was performed before eating, the food tasted better and delivered more satisfaction than when there was no pre-eating ritual.
Remember Pavlov’s theory where dogs were trained to salivate for food by hearing the sound of a metronome instead of from the food itself? Similarly, we can trigger a salivation response by performing a pre-meal ritual like saying grace.
If we do this every time before we eat, the brain will associate the grace with food and then trigger the digestive process—much like the salivation of Pavlov’s dogs had them in digestive mode just by the sound of a metronome or from the sound of footsteps coming into the kitchen at feeding time.
A ritual is not a random gesture. The rituals should be repeated habits done by yourself, not someone else. Listening to someone else say a blessing or prayer for a meal, or asking your partner to go make the coffee/tea defeats the purpose, so don’t expect to enjoy your meal or coffee more in this case—you must do it yourself!
The ritual of eating can be the simple act of dining, eating together as a family, or enjoying the company of others.
One study showed that children in families that ate dinner together away from the TV in a kitchen or dining room had healthier weight and lower BMI (body mass index) than children in families that did not eat together. (5)
Other studies found that eating mindfully, paying attention to your food while eating, and slowing down while eating may reduce overeating, compulsive eating and obesity, and support healthier glycemic control for diabetics. (6,7,8)
The latest research in the field of Behavioral Epigenetics shows that both normal and abnormal behaviors and belief systems can epigenetically alter or DNA. (2,3) in other words, our behavior changes the expression of our DNA.
Equally exciting research has discovered that the microbes (beneficial bacteria) that reside in our gut can alter our moods and emotional states. (4) Stress alters the gut microbiome which, in turn, affects the thoughts, cravings, and desires we have.
Is it possible that the mindfulness and presence created by ritual also impact the microbes in the gut to be prepared to enjoy, digest, and savor the meal better, as well as make a dent in the evolutionary ladder of our DNA? Could a peaceful family meal alter the microbes in the gut to then alter the mind, mood, and even our genetic code?
A pre-meal ritual can be as simple as a brief, but mindful and intentional “thank you.” Doing so can make the meal more enjoyable and set the tone for the other benefits of mindful eating.
What are your rituals? Share in the comments!