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Sensuous Eating: Make eating a multisensory experience

Michelle May

Michelle dining at a table overlooking the Amalfi Coast

When my husband Owen and I celebrated our 25th anniversary in Italy, enjoying delicious regional foods was one of our many highlights. Eating was truly a multisensory experience! We called it “sensuous eating.”

Owen is a professional chef and I’ve long been fascinated by the European approach to food (and life), so it was our perfect “working” vacation. In addition to art and history in Florence and Rome, hiking in the Cinque Terra, and wine tasting in Montepulciano, we scheduled cooking classes in Bologna and Ravello.

We were not disappointed.

Sensuous eating

Mamma Agata's farm overlooking the oceanI can best describe our trip as “sensuous.” (Have you noticed that somehow everything seems better while on vacation?) Before your mind goes any further, remember that sensuous is defined as:

  1. Relating to or derived from the senses.
  2. Appealing to or gratifying the senses.
  3. Readily affected through the senses.
  4. Highly appreciative of the pleasures of sensation.

Why do you go through the motions when eating?

When we slip into autopilot, we can consume an entire plate of food with very little awareness of the sensory experience. How is this possible?

There are many reasons people disconnect from their senses and eat mindlessly. Here are just a few:

  • Repetition. Most of us eat over 1500 snacks and meals a year! This repetition is one reason we check out soon after the first bite or two.
  • Distraction: Often when we sit down to eat (IF we sit down to eat), we quickly become distracted by TV, work, reading, scrolling on our phones, or driving.
  • Rushing: In the U.S. “fast food” is often not just what we eat but how we eat!
  • Emotional eating: We also tend to disconnect from eating when we’re using the food to meet our emotional needs.
  • Guilt: Feeling guilty about eating certain foods causes you to disconnect from the pleasurable experience of eating what you love.

When we’re just going through the motions while eating, we can’t fully enjoy the experience.

We also miss the signals our body sends to let us know when we’ve had enough (until it’s too late!). As a consequence, we feel stuffed but unsatisfied, feeding the eat-repent-repeat cycle.

How to make every meal a sensuous experience

Michelle in Italy sensuous eatingSo why is eating pizza in Italy so much more sensuous than a pizza delivered to your door?

Because the experience is new.

Rather than shifting into autopilot because we’ve “been there, done that,” everything is experienced as if for the first time. In mindfulness, this is called beginner’s mind.

A feast for the eyes… ears… and mouth!

Michelle dining at a table overlooking the Amalfi Coast
Michelle enjoying dinner on the Amalfi Coast.

One of our most memorable experiences was the three days we spent on the Amalfi Coast. After a harrowing drive from Naples on narrow roads at high speeds (fortunately with an experienced local driver – not my husband!), we arrived in the quaint village of Ravello. It is much less crowded than the popular town of Positano, which was just (another harrowing) bus ride away along the coastline. We chose Ravello because we had pre-arranged a dinner with wine tasting and cooking lessons at Mamma Agata cooking school over the following days.

After checking into our hotel, we wandered through the town and found a little restaurant with a patio hanging over the Amalfi coastline. It was still fairly early (Italians eat later than Americans), so we had the patio to ourselves.

We were enjoying a glass of a local wine and sampling fresh bread when we heard beautiful live symphonic music drifting over the cliff-side toward us. As it happened, there was a live concert the following night at a venue perched over the ocean and we were privileged to listen to their private rehearsal while we ate!

Love what you eat!

Lemons growing over the Amalfi CoastFarmers grow lemons and other produce on the hillsides leading down to the ocean so we ordered some of the local specialties – gnocchi and fish with a lemon sauce. The aromas and flavors of our meal were captivating! The tart lemons balanced beautifully with the creamy sauce; handmade gnocchi swimming in a savory pool of wine sauce with sun-dried tomatoes and olives… sensuous!

The sun slowly set on our perfect meal as we took our time, enjoying the incredible views, beautiful music, delicious food, and each other.

Obviously, this was a rare experience; most meals will not be enjoyed on a patio overlooking the ocean! But even ordinary meals can be a multisensory experience when you bring your awareness to the table.

Create a multisensory eating experience where you are

Here are some simple steps for making eating a multisensory experience.

Owen eating pizza in a park in Bologna Italy.
Owen eating pizza in a park in Bologna Italy.
  • The next time you’re hungry, carefully choose a food you really want.
  • Order or serve an amount you estimate will leave you feeling good when you’re finished eating.
  • Consider the environment and ambience. For example, can you eat outside on your porch for a change? Can you light a candle or play some background music? These simple changes will make the experience feel new and special.
  • Bring beginner’s mind to eating. If it helps, imagine eating your food like a young child who is experiencing it for the very first time.
  • Look at the food closely. Feel it, smell it, then taste it. Notice the texture, temperature, aromas, and flavors as you slowly chew.
  • Notice whether you’re tempted to pick up the next bite before you’re done with the first one.
  • Tune into your body’s subtle signals of hunger and satisfaction.
  • If you become bored while eating, try re-engaging all of your senses.
  • If you’re still bored, consider whether you are done eating and it’s time to turn your attention to something else.

By treating each bite, food, or meal as though it’s the first time you’ve ever experienced it, there is no room for guilt or shame. Eating becomes a sensuous, lovely multisensory experience every day.

This article is updated from a previous version.

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