When was the last time you paused before a meal to give thanks for the bounty before you? This once commonplace ritual has gone out of vogue in recent years, but research indicates that it may impact more than our spiritual health.
Regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, offering a mealtime prayer or blessing provides a moment of pause, a moment when we choose to center ourselves in gratitude—and that act alone releases a rush of endorphins that support our physiological, spiritual, and emotional health.
Some of us may have begrudgingly recited a mealtime prayer throughout our childhoods. It was a rote practice during which we may have felt anything but grateful. If you’ve since abandoned this practice, consider reevaluating and reinstating this powerful pause in whatever form works for you.
Saying grace does not have to be about religion or dogma. It doesn’t matter what you say or how you say it. What matters is the intention behind the action. Perhaps the most valuable component of a mealtime blessing is the forced pause. We spend much of our time scurrying here and there. In fact, many of us eat mindlessly and on the go—we eat breakfast standing at the kitchen counter, lunch at our desk, and dinner in the car after a quick trip through the drive-through. This hardly allows us time to appreciate and acknowledge our good fortune.
Pausing to say a quick blessing allows us to do just that—pause. It’s a powerful moment when we take a deep breath and calm down before diving into our food. This pause impacts how we consume and digest our food.
In his book, The Slow Down Diet: Eating for Pleasure, Energy, and Weight Loss, Marc David says, “At the very least, blessing creates a physiologic relaxation response and hence all the metabolic advantages this state offers, from increased digestive force to enhanced calorie-burning efficiency.”1 David is an advocate of taking 10 deep breaths before eating because it engages the parasympathetic nervous system and allows us to relax and digest our food more efficiently. A mealtime blessing has a similar effect as taking those 10 breaths.
Getting to Gratitude
Whether we realize it or not, we are incredibly lucky to have food on our plates—much of the world does not have the same fortune. We take a lot for granted.
Gratitude is a deep sense of appreciation that can release a powerful cascade of endorphins. Often we forget to stay centered in gratitude for even the simplest gifts in our life. Gratitude reminds us to focus on what we have rather than what we don’t have.
A mealtime prayer or blessing is a powerful way to center ourselves in gratitude—on a daily basis. The simple ritual will undoubtedly allow gratitude to seep into the crevices of your life.
David says, “A prayer before meals makes nutritional and spiritual sense. Consider offering some special words, aloud or silent, that acknowledge the creatures and plants who offered themselves to you. Give thanks for being nourished and provided for. If making a prayer of gratitude for your food is uncomfortable for you, just add a pinch of humility.”
The most powerful blessings are spoken with intention from the heart. There is no need to recite the same prayer at each meal. In fact, by speaking freely each time, you’ll avoid slipping into rote, meaningless recitation.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few non-traditional mealtime blessings:
For the golden corn and the honey from the bees,
For golden sun and the apples on the trees,
For fruits and nuts and berries we gather on our way,
We thank our loving Mother Earth. We thank her every day.
Blessings on our meal today.
(commonly recited at Waldorf schools)
Gratitude before me,
Gratitude behind me,
Gratitude to the left of me,
Gratitude to the right of me,
Gratitude above me,
Gratitude below me,
Gratitude within me,
Gratitude all around me.
If you are truly at a loss, simply close your eyes, take a deep breath, and say, “Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude.” You’ll feel a wave of gratitude wash over you.
1 David, M. The Slow Down Diet: Eating for Pleasure, Energy, & Weight Loss. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2005.