This may sound a bit trippy, but the ability to tune in to your hunger and savor the experience of eating play a huge role in your relationship with food, and also your body. Mindful eating is a term that comes from the Buddhist practice of mindfulness. Most people could benefit from adopting some of these principles, particularly when it comes to eating habits. Mindfulness is just another name for awareness, and being aware of what and how we eat can have a tremendous impact on both the quantity and quality of foods that we choose.
Research tells us that eating quickly, not chewing thoroughly, and not paying attention to what and how much we consume, can result in overeating, obesity and other disease. The overeating occurs because the feedback mechanism everybody has that tells our brain when the stomach is full, does not have the opportunity to get the message out before we've already piled extra food over and above what we really need to consume.
The dozen tips here are surprisingly easy to integrate into your life. They do however take a conscious effort (often with calender reminders set before meal time) in order to remind us to do them - especially while attempting to set up new habits.
- Practice - eating quickly is a habit that needs to be broken. Practice mindful eating by scheduling it into your day. Put it in your calender or leave notes on the fridge or pantry. Eventually you can create a habit through practice.
- Chew 25 times - you might think you chew your food, but there's a good chance a lot of it's being gulped down whole. Take smaller bites and chew thoroughly. Prescribing a number of chews helps keep you mindful of the task at hand and gives you a target to focus on. The exact number of chews is less consequential.
- Put down your cutlery - this will stop you going into 'shovelling' mode. Putting your fork down forces you to relax and concentrate on chewing what you already have in your mouth.
- Remove distractions - turn off the TV and put away your phone at meal time. This time is not bonus 'work time' and should not be spent focusing on work activities or other distracting tasks. Conversation is the only useful distraction. See below.
- Have a conversation - enjoying a meal with friends and having a great conversation is a fantastic opportunity to slow down a meal. Just remember to chew, and if you're using your mouth to talk non-stop this may be an issue.
- Eat with other slow eaters - to train yourself to eat slower try finding other slow eaters to eat with. We often imitate people we like (and these are often the people we share a meal with). If those people are ferocious eaters chances are you'll take on the same habit. If your spouse is a fast eater try suggesting you enjoy the meal together by slowing it down.... and adding some conversation.
- Use a plate - this may sound weird but eating out of a bag or packet is not a mindful practice. Put anything you're going to eat onto a plate, snacks and desserts included. This helps you to be in touch and acknowledge what you are actually eating throughout the day. Think back to the last stand-up party with canapes - how quickly did you lose track of how much you'd eaten (or drank for that matter)?
- Sit at a table - like the plate idea, this simple mindful concept creates a link in your body between the plate, the table, and a meal happening. Formalising your dining experience helps draw your attention to your food and eating habits.
- Don't eat when you're starving - nothing will make you want to hoover a plate of food like being famished. If you get into this state have a small snack of nuts to tide you over. Then once you feel satiated you can more easily go back to your mindful eating.
- Try to identify ingredients in your meal - a great way to focus on the present meal is to try and identify all the ingredients in your meal. This is really only useful if dining out or being cooked for. If you've cooked for yourself skip this tip.... unless you also like to know what you're getting for Christmas ahead of time.
- Drink during your meal - having a drink (we'd recommend water) at mealtime is another way to slow down. Swapping between eating and drinking provides a natural braking mechanism to the meal.
- Eat with chopsticks for a week - OK, this one is having a bit of fun. But, you can really slow things down by using chopsticks to eat everything for a week. Being forced into eating so slowly opens up so many other mindful oppurtunities like, "why am I making this food choice?", "how do I eat that bagel with these?", and "maybe I'm better off without those fries for lunch".