Mindful eating starts slowly

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As a nutrition coach, I believe that going “on” a diet always implies that eventually there will be an end — when you go “off” the diet.

Healthy nutrition is a lifetime endeavor, a creation of good habits rather than following a specific plan for a limited time. Frequently, the first task I give my clients who desire fat loss is to eat slowly.

Most of us have heard that it takes about 20 minutes for signals from digestion to reach the brain with the message, “I’m full.”

What happens when we rush through a meal? Indigestion, regrets about what you just ate, not feeling satisfied, eating more than intended, or not remembering what you even ate are all common experiences.

Eating slowly is the first step to eating mindfully and with awareness. You will feel satisfied with less food, enjoy your food more and begin to notice how certain foods (and quantities) make you feel.

Eating slowly and truly enjoying a meal can be stress relieving. With continued practice, you will learn how much your body needs and begin to feel when the quantity is right without constantly measuring or counting.

If you regularly eat while standing, driving, watching television or with other distractions, try sitting down and eating without any distractions, except perhaps some good conversation with family or friends. Or just enjoy some quiet time alone.

You may need to plan ahead and schedule this time in your day. For your daily main meals, try adding five or 10 minutes to how long it normally takes you to eat. Aim for 20 minutes.

Notice that at the five-minute mark, 25 percent of your food is gone; at 10 minutes, 50 percent is gone; and so on. If you feel full before the 20 minutes, STOP eating. We don’t need to clean our plates, no matter what our moms told us. Take a look around next time you eat in a restaurant, notice how fast those around you are eating.

Take the time to smell your food before you put it in your mouth. Then taste it, notice the texture, chew thoroughly and be sure your mouth is empty before you load the next bite on your fork. You may learn to like new foods, or realize that you routinely eat something you don’t really enjoy.

Put your utensils down between each bite. Take two full deep breaths or have a sip of water between bites.

Slow down when snacking, too. Instead of having a mouthful of nuts, for example, eat one at a time, chewing completely, mouth empty, before the next one.

Find ways to remind yourself of the new habit. Try leaving yourself sticky notes anywhere you may eat, or schedule pop-up messages or an alarm on your phone. It takes time to create a habit, so if you catch yourself inhaling your food, wipe the slate clean and eat slowly the very next time you eat.

You can’t simply will your body to drop pounds, but you can control your daily behaviors, and eating slowly is a good place to start.

Elizabeth Sparks is a certified personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, registered yoga teacher, and holds a certificate in plant based nutrition from eCornell. She can be contacted through the Walla Walla YMCA at 525-8863.

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