Oncology NutritionPreventative nutrition and health

Mindful Eating – come with me

When I was nine, I had a shrine…

My whole life, as long as I can remember I’ve had a chocolate shrine. Growing up, I had an entire shelf of my book case in my bedroom dedicated to all of the most delicious treats that came into my possession. Wedged between my porcelain dolls below and the ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Tomorrow When the War Began’ series above lived all my wrapped chocolate and lollies. I would display it all beautifully with pride of place in my bedroom. It would look extra lush after Easter and school fetes, and my favourite thing to do was to let me friends from school come over and choose something to enjoy from it. Except that wombat easter egg. That was mine. I savoured my food, often beyond the point of expiry date which was terribly disappointing for a nine year old (but I must admit did not always stop me!).

Over the years, as life got busier, other things entered my world that demanded more of my attention than my wombat easter egg. The shrine was slowly overtaken by magazine cut outs of Chad Michael Murray, followed by pictures of my gorgeous afro-bearing boyfriend and VCE textbooks. My love for chocolate, for sharing and for savouring my food remains, but it’s not shouting as loudly as the competing demands in my world. What was once a bookcase shrine has now transitioned to a very sensible biscuit tin in the cupboard.

And so it goes. The values and behaviours that we naturally and innately possess become shaped by the environment and culture that we live in. So here I am today, fully grown, although still very short, with an ornamental bookshelf garnished with pictures of my grandparents, my wedding day, my pets and my plants (my other pets!), but no chocolate wombat.

Let’s bring back the wombat. Sadly, I’ve just missed the Easter boat and so the chances of finding a particularly adorable hollow Pink Lady wombat (no, not the apple variety for all you dietitians reading) are quite slim, but fortunately my family has immaculate taste and I have a Haigh’s egg ready and waiting. I’m going to eat this egg like my nine-year-old self would have. Mindfully. Savouring. Every. Single. Moment.

My mindful eating experience. You’re welcome to come along. Even better, try it out with me.

Firstly, I take the time to put my egg, fully wrapped in a bowl. I brew a cup of earl grey (intermittently watching my egg as the kettle boils…as if it’s going anywhere?!) and I sit down at the table. It looks so pretty. The multi-coloured gold and white striped wrapper makes it look so precious and appealing. I think back to the time I went on a chocolate tour, starting at Haigh’s in Melbourne, and the facts they gave about the percentage of cocoa solids and the importance of cocoa butter for the distinctive mouthfeel. I switch off my science brain. Nine year old Lauren wouldn’t have known this (and she probably wouldn’t have cared! That came later). I carefully pull back the foil wrapper to reveal the deep brown, etched shell of the chocolate egg. I wonder if the pattern is unique to this egg or if they’re all uniformly ‘etched’.  Does the Haigh’s factory have many moulds or just one? I take time to consider the team that have worked hard to allow me to enjoy this egg-cellent moment.

I gently pick up the egg with my thumb and index finger and give it a little shake. Silent. I hold it to my nose and sniff it like my inquisitive Blue Heeler would. I smell the rich chocolate scent that makes its way deep into my airways to a point that I feel like I can taste it. I liked that, so I do it again. I crack the egg into the bowl, expecting it to shatter into lovely, uniform pieces, but it ends up only with a dent. I smoodge it into the bowl to bread the shell and peel the chocolate into bite size portions. Generous bites. I wonder if, on a cooler day, it would have cracked with more gusto, or if the cocoa butter content makes it naturally more malleable? I again switch off my science brain. I choose the piece that is shaped vaguely like one of those scoops you see at the pick-and-mix nut station. I hold it with my thumb and index and notice the texture soften over time with the warmth of my fingers. I’m noticeably salivating. Well done Haigh’s. My mind goes to Pavlov’s dogs and I bring it right on back again.

I close my eyes and bring the scoop-shaped piece of chocolate to my mouth, hesitating momentarily before I place it on my tongue. I leave it there, mouth closed, pressing my tongue to my palate to sandwich the chocolate as it melts on my tongue. This is happening right now as I type. Don’t be jealous, this could be you! The intensity of flavour diminishes somewhat so I swish the now half-melted choc around my mouth so spread the flavour around. It rejuvenates. It’s been long enough and hard to resist swallowing. I move my tongue around to clear my mouth and get glimpses of that rich chocolate as I do, although never as strong as the initial taste.

The after-taste is alluring. In itself it’s not particularly pleasant but it’s a tempting reminder of the original and desirable taste and mouthfeel. My mouth feels sweet and I’m left seeking a sip of water to clear the thickened saliva that’s formed alongside the chocolate. I think of the enzyme amylase and its role in digestion and again turn down that thought. I’m left considering the enthusiasm that I entered this egg-perience with, the ideal of a chocolate treat, to the mediocre mouthfeel that I’m now left with.

It seems clear, in this moment, as I sit here with my favourite chocolate in a bowl, a carefully peeled back and discarded foil wrapper, and a full cup of earl grey, that perhaps after all the years I may have got it wrong. You see I always save the best bite till last. I plan my mouthfuls at most, if not all meals, to ensure the very last bite is the perfect combination of all the best bits of the meal combined to form a happy party in my mouth. The last hurrah. But maybe what this chocolate has taught me is that the first bite, of even the very first moment, is just as important as the last.

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