When learning how to eat mindfully, often we begin by focusing on obvious behaviors such as not watching television or driving while eating. The more subtle aspects come later when we have mastered these and are more in tune with our own bodies and our environment. However, suggestions to “focus on your food” may seem too vague to be sure we are eating mindfully. What is most helpful is a checklist to evaluate our own eating awareness.
The acronym A.F.T.E.R. is a checklist developed by K. Katrina, N. King, and D. Hayes in their book, “Moving Away From Diets”. Although the acronym suggests its use when you finish your meal, it is actually more useful during the meal. Keep this checklist handy wherever you eat so that you can be sure to get the full enjoyment from your meal. Achieving most of the characteristics of A.F.T.E.R. will help insure that you are satisfied with your meal emotionally, as well as physically. But don’t worry if EVERY meal does not measure up. Sometimes we eat just to meet our hunger need even if the food isn’t as appealing as we would prefer.
A stands for appearance of your food. You are encouraged to notice the color, shape, and design of the foods. Pay attention to how it is served—attractively on a plate? With a garnish? With a tablecloth or placemat? It isn’t hard to make your food look good enough to eat!
F is for flavor. Notice if there is one dominant flavor or do they all meld together? How does it smell? Are there certain spices or herbs that you can identify?
T is for temperature and texture. Is the food warm or cold enough? If not, you should correct the temperature before you eat it. What about the texture? Can you think of four adjectives to describe it? How about crunchy, smooth, tender, chewy? Is there a nice balance or contrast in textures?
E is for the overall experience. Was it pleasant? If so, what made it so? Was the background noise conducive to enjoying your food? How about the lighting, company, etc.? Make a note of what improved your experience and be sure to repeat it.
R is for results. When the meal ends, do you feel satisfied? What other feelings do you experience? Relaxed? Pleased? Nurtured? Did the food sustain you until the next time you ate?
Use the A.F.T.E.R. acronym checklist for your next meal and see if it improves your enjoyment and ultimate satisfaction with the experience. Learning to respond to our own needs is a journey that takes many steps but is worth it!
Darlene Endy, MS, RD, CDN