By Caroline Bienert
Mindfulness (an awareness of whatever is happening in our lives) is a term that is becoming increasingly popular these days. Mindful eating, or being in the present moment while we eat, is crucial to enjoying food AND to losing any excess weight you may be carrying around. Mindful eating enables you to stay focused on what is going on in your mouth (where your taste buds are located) and in your stomach (so you can notice your body’s signals that you have had enough to eat).
In order to eat mindfully, you have to put all of your attention on the food so that you can savor its flavor, texture, and taste and enjoy the eating experience. You can’t really enjoy food that you haphazardly shovel into your mouth while you feed the baby or read the back of the cereal box, check your email or talk on the phone! This is a real challenge though given the fast paced society that we live in where most people don’t actually stop what they are doing in order to eat their meals without distractions.
Even if you get rid of all the physical distractions while you eat – these include your phone, television, paper, email, computer, etc, you may find that you are still distracted by your thoughts and/or conversations with others. To help you stay connected (or reconnect) to your meal and slow things down, try these techniques when you eat:
• The “fork rule”—if you have food in your mouth, you don’t want to have food on your fork (or other utensil) or in your hand. This is important because if you have another bite of food ready to go, your attention will be on the food in your hand or on your fork, NOT on the food in your mouth. Using the fork rule will slow down your eating pace and increase the enjoyment you get from the food.
• Divide the food on your plate into at least four sections and after you finish each section, take a minute to pause and check in with your hunger. This technique is a great way to prevent you from finishing all your food on autopilot. For example, cut a burger or sandwich or fish fillet into quarters. Every time you finish eating one section of the food, you will have a visible reminder to put down your fork, take a deep breath and check in with yourself. It is essential that you create moments to pause throughout the meal in order to reconnect to the eating experience—to make sure you are still tasting and enjoying the food and to check in with your stomach to see if you are still hungry. By creating divisions in your food, you will also be reminded to not think of your food as a “single unit”. You don’t want to assume that if you start eating a food that comes in a single “unit” that you have to finish it! For example: if you are eating pizza, while one slice of pizza might not be enough to satisfy you, two slices may leave you too full. One and a third slice may be the sweet spot! However, if you in the habit of always finishing a slice once you start eating it, then you will not notice when you have had enough part way through it.
• Lastly, you want to chew your food very thoroughly. Throughout each meal, occasionally check in on the food in your mouth and aim to chew it at least 10-15 times before swallowing. If you are constantly moving through the day at a very fast pace, it can be hard to break your momentum and slow down to eat your meals. It is amazing how automatically you will swallow large pieces of food – often even after just 1 or 2 chews. While it is unrealistic to expect yourself to chew every bite of food in your mouth very thoroughly, you can try to do so every so often during your meal. There are many benefits to chewing your food this way:
• You will slow down your eating pace – this will give you more time to digest your food and your system is able to produce the digest enzymes and possibly notice you are satisfied by less
• You will enjoy the food more – think about it, you only have taste buds in your mouth so the longer you keep the food there, the more enjoyment you will get
• You will improve your digestion and absorb more nutrients since the food is further broken down in your mouth
Now when you first start implementing these techniques into your meals, you may feel like you have to be hyper-focused to follow them. However, if you continue to practice them, they will become second nature with time and will greatly increase the pleasure you get from eating smaller portions of food.