I feel a little sorry for, as he scathingly put it, the ‘self-styled food guru’, whose email landed in Jay Rayner’s inbox. They did little worse than get their marketing targeting wrong (although, ten out of ten for acquiring Jay Rayner’s email address). Ok, and maybe they could have done a slightly better job on their opening gambit:
“Have you ever noticed how incredibly silent it becomes at dinner as soon as the food hits the table?”
This was like a red rag to a food critic who decided to form his entire opinion of mindful eating (which he shared with a possible 4.1 million readers) on that one fateful sentence alone.
I’m quite surprised to read that despite his knowledge of all thing’s food, the concept of mindful eating had apparently escaped Jay Rayner until he received that email. But then, learning to cultivate a conscious awareness of his eating experiences is probably not a skill he feels he needs to practice much.
Therein lies the point. Someone as socially privileged as Jay Rayner doesn’t need to take the time to understand mindful eating or appreciate its application in society. A society that is experiencing increasing incidence of diet and lifestyle related diseases like type-2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome (the precursor to type 2 diabetes) and obesity. Recent figures from Diabetes UK show that there are 3.8 million people living in the UK with a diagnosis of diabetes, and 90% of those are type-2 which is known to be influenced by poor diet and lifestyle choices.
It has been recognised for quite some time that without behaviour change, most diets for weight management are useless. In a growing number of clinical trials, mindfulness interventions have been found to reduce binge eating, emotional eating and disordered eating (all of which are real things and worthy of pathologising).
Jay Rayner seemed to be of the impression that ‘the vast majority of us don’t need fixing’. I guess that depends on whether you are one of the vast majority of six-figure net worth, London based foodies who eat at Michelin starred restaurants, or, whether you are one of the increasingly time-poor, stressed and multi-tasking individuals who haven’t got the time to think about what to put on the table every night.
It is those people who are more likely to be eating processed and convenience foods and regularly engaging in habits like eating on the move, at a busy desk, or out of a packet. All of which is taking a toll on their digestive health, their ability to absorb nutrients (many clinical studies show that stress affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients), and their expanding waistlines.
These are the people who will benefit from borrowing a little wisdom from Zen Buddhist teachings and the principles of mindful eating like slowing down, limiting distractions and tuning in a little more. All of which can be used to free people from unhealthy eating habits and vastly improve their quality of life.
The majority of Jay’s article was a fervent defence of lively dinner tables. There is no question that food is to be enjoyed, celebrated and shared, in fact, the principles of mindful eating teach us to do just that. As Jan Chozen Bays, physician, Zen Priest and mindful eating educator once said: “Eat food like a wine connoisseur tastes wine. First sniff the food, enjoying the bouquet. Then take a small taste. Roll it around the mouth, savouring it. What ingredients do you detect? Chew slowly and swallow. Take a sip of water to cleanse the palette. When the mouth is empty of food and flavour, repeat the process”.
Isn’t that exactly what you were doing on MasterChef Jay?
 Eat Behav. 2014 Apr;15(2): Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: a systematic review. Katterman SN, Kleinman BM, Hood MM, Nackers LM, Corsica JA.
[2.1] A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Warren JM1, Smith N2, Ashwell M3. Nutrition Research Reviews. 2017 Dec