Sometimes simple changes can come a long way. And doing things in a mindful way is a complicated way of saying that many things we do in life can have a great impact if only we pay attention to them.
So before you continue reading, ask yourself. “What are my eating habits?”, “How fast am I eating?”. Become aware!
When you eat slowly, you digest better. You lose or maintain weight more easily. Yet you also feel more satisfied with each meal.
Conversely, if you rush your meals, your digestion suffers. Meals are stressful. And it might seem like each meal is over too soon, which often makes you want to eat more. Or you “overshoot the runway”, finishing the meal before your natural satiety signals kick in, and ending up suddenly — uncomfortably — overstuffed.
We’re a rushed, distracted, and too-busy society. Most people in North America eat fast. Really fast. We rarely take the time to savor our food… or sometimes even to chew it properly.
We rush our food no matter who we are. Even if you’re a nutrition coach with a Master’s degree in nutrition and many additional nutrition certifications. Like me.
For years, I ate quickly. The result was poor digestion and putting on weight!
But now I have to learn to eat more slowly again. It’s not always easy but, as when coaching my clients, I always see the profound effects it has on them. Learning to eat more slowly is one of the simplest yet most powerful things you can do to improve your overall health.
Let’s look at some aspects of mindful eating.
One of the most important benefits of eating slowly is that it gives your body time to recognise that you’re full.
It takes about twenty minutes from the start of a meal for the brain to send out signals of satiety. Most people’s meals don’t even last that long!
Imagine the extra calories you could ingest simply because you didn’t allow your body time to register that it no longer requires food. Now imagine the effect of those extra calories on your weight.
Eating slowly also helps us feel more satisfied — which is different than just being “full”.
When you slow down, savour a meal, pay attention to tastes and textures, and appreciate each mindful bite, you leave the table feeling good in your soul… even if all you ate was a baloney sandwich.
Eating slowly also helps our digestion. Think of digestion as a chain reaction. As soon as we see, smell, or think about food (step 1), we start salivating to prepare for putting that food in our mouth (step 2). Saliva contains enzymes that break the food down, and moistens the mouth for easier swallowing.
Meanwhile, digestive steps 3, 4, 5 etc. have to get ready to go to work. Our stomach starts to secrete more acid. Our small intestine starts to get ready for some peristalsis. And so forth.
If we rush this process, we force our Gastro Intestinal (GI) tract to deal with stuff before it’s fully prepared. Surprises are great on birthdays, not so great during digestion.
At the University of Rhode Island, researchers examined how eating speed affected the early stages of digestive process by observing 60 young adults eating a meal.
Slow eaters consumed 50% less food (in grams) per minute than fast eaters!
This means that not only are fast eaters putting more food down in a given amount of time, but also that food isn’t as well-processed. Food is essentially landing in fast eaters’ stomachs in big lumps.
Digestion starts in the mouth, so large bites which are inadequately chewed will be more difficult for your stomach to turn into chyme – the liquid mix of partially digested food, hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes and water, that passes through the pyloric valve on its way to elimination.
Food that isn’t properly broken down into chyme can lead to indigestion and other potential GI problems. And who wants that?
Most of the research on this topic suggests that eating slowly helps you to eat less. That’s especially useful information if you’re trying to lose or maintain weight. I am not a big believer in counting calories, but the fact is that satiety is controlled by our hormones. And eating mindfully means to allow our hormones to do what they are supposed to do!!
Back to the study. During the study 30 normal-weight women where served two meals. The meal in both cases consisted of an enormous plate of pasta with a tomato-vegetable sauce and some Parmesan cheese, along with a glass of water. At each visit, researchers instructed the women to eat to the point of comfortable fullness. But during one visit, they also told them to to eat as quickly as possible, while on the other visit, participants were asked to eat slowly and to put down their utensils between bites.
When the researchers compared the difference in food consumption between the quickly eaten lunch and the slowly eaten lunch, here is what they found. When eating quickly the women consumed 646 calories in 9 minutes. When eating slowly the women consumed 579 calories in 29 minutes. That is 67 less calories in 20 more minutes! If you extrapolate that to three meals per day, you can see how those extra calories could add up.
And here’s another interesting twist: When the women ate their lunch quickly, they reported more hunger an hour later than they did after their slowly eaten lunch.
So not only did eating quickly lead to greater food consumption, it actually satisfied the women less!
- Eating slowly is an act of celebration of food. Enjoying and savouring your meals will lead to better digestion, eating until satisfied but not full. And you will also eat less!
Listen to you Hunger and Fullness Cues
If you want to see an example of someone skilled in intuitive eating, hang out with a baby. Despite being completely dependent on others for all their needs, infants are incredibly skilled at listening to their hunger and satiety cues. It’s only as infants grow that they learn to override these cues and use food for comfort or reward.
To help you get in touch with your hunger and fullness cues, it’s important to appreciate where they come from. Your stomach is the squishy organ located just under your sternum (or where your ribs split apart). If you struggle to recognize hunger and fullness cues, place a hand on your stomach every time you get the urge to eat and try to determine where on the following scale you fall.
Put Down the Phone and Eat with All 5 Senses
Becoming an intuitive eater takes practice and means that you are letting go of the diet culture and all the “rules” you picked up along the way. Intuitive eating means taking a giant leap of faith and trusting your body to relay the correct information about when, how much, and what to eat. Now, this isn’t to say that you should completely forfeit all nutrition guidelines, rather, it’s about learning how to balance nutrition with pleasure in a way that is sustainable now and in the future. (Remember, whatever you do to lose weight or improve your health needs to be lifelong!). The following suggestions may benefit you on your journey to becoming a more mindful eater:
- Limit distractions
When we pay attention to work, Netflix, or Instagram, we are less likely to pay attention to our feelings of hunger and fullness. Also, you may not derive as much satisfaction from your meal if you eat when distracted (making it likely that you will want to eat something else for pleasure). Finally, eating with distraction is a two-way relationship in that TV watching or reading can become the trigger for eating, even if we’re not hungry.
- Eat with all five senses
While the sight, smell, and taste of food is something most of us consider at meals, we often don’t fully embrace these senses. Next time you sit down to eat, pay attention to how the food looks, smells, sounds, tastes, and how it feels as you are eating it. Using all five senses not only enhances the pleasure you derive from food, but helps you to slow down and truly savour your meal.
- Take your time
How long does it take for you to finish a meal? Fifteen minutes? Ten minutes? Have you already helped yourself to a second serving in this time? Your stomach is not able to send instantaneous feedback to your brain about how full it is; this process takes time. By slowing down, chewing your food well, and taking at least 20 minutes to finish a meal, you allow your stomach and brain to work in harmony to regulate food intake.
- Eat the right amount of food for your body
When it comes to weight loss, everyone wants fast results. However, fast does not mean effective. Rapid weight loss almost always results in rapid (and excessive) weight regain. Sustainable long-term weight loss takes time and should be done by creating a slight calorie-deficit without sacrificing satiety or pleasure.
- Practice mindful eating with every meal.
- The environment we eat can have a big impact so try to eat without distractions and at a place where you feel comfortable.
- Don’t rush. Eat with all your senses and you will soon see that your nutrition will improve!
Apply awareness to all aspects of your life
Awareness for me means having focus, and being able to focus on little things. Not losing track of what is going around and what my priorities and my values are.
I believe that with greater awareness, everything else becomes easier. Once we become aware, our human instinct is to take action in such a direction that solves challenges or seizes opportunities. Without awareness, it is difficult to navigate a world that is constantly changing. Having this understanding also means that you are acutely aware of your personality, strengths and weaknesses, thoughts and beliefs, and emotions.
Focus on awareness and everything else will be fine. How can this look like for you?
On a regular day-to-day basis, usually in the morning, bring yourself in the spotlight of your attention. How are you today and what are your priorities? Celebrate yesterday’s achievements and be grateful for them. This is always a nice way to start the day.
How does this look in your work environment
Awareness in any environment, and especially in a work environment, can be created by summarising and capturing the outcome of your actions. Every conversation you might have with a customer (for example) can be summarized and captured in a concise post (in Slack for example). If you can explain a certain action then you understand it’s value. This creates transparency and provides great awareness, in an efficient manner and on a consistent basis. Even if you are not talking to customers you are part of team and everything we ultimately do is to serve our team. So let your team know what’s happening.
- Practicing mindful eating will probably become such a strong habit, it will soon also extend to all areas of your life!
Awareness is always observing being focused. And naturally asking constantly questions. “Are you eating the best you can?” “Are the foods that you are eating serving you best?”
Slow down your eating and enjoy improved health and well-being.