Do you ever eat a meal so quickly it’s over before you’ve even had time to appreciate the food on your plate? Do you tend to snack and snack and snack until you feel like you could just explode? Do you eat things that you know are not good for you or that don’t agree with you? Do you crave certain foods and eat them even if you are already full? Do you swallow your food after only several chews? Do you reward yourself with food? Do you eat food ‘on the go’?
Well, if I am going to be honest with myself and you, I answer yes to all of these questions. Despite knowing a great deal about nutrition and diet I have always struggled with portion control and mindful eating. I snack constantly, especially on weekends and holidays where I have access to food. I eat on the run because I have meetings, school sports and homework to do. I crave foods badly, and most often give into the cravings. I ‘binge’ eat until I am so full that I am almost incapacitated. Are you feeling me?! Surely I can’t be alone in this.
Some of you may remember my New Year’s resolution this year was hara hachi bu, which translates roughly to eat until 80% full. It is a Japanese saying that is a good basis for health and wellness, but requires very mindful eating. From the paragraph above it is quite clear that mindful eating is not my forté… And this has caused some not so desirable effects, including weight gain (not that I care particularly about weight, but is hasn’t been muscle gain if you know what I mean), increased sugar intake due to general increased food intake and bloating and distension in my stomach (particularly after a day where I eat LOTS of food). To be completely honest it has even impacted upon my self-esteem, because when I overeat I become embarrassed and ashamed of my behaviour. Let’s just say this is one situation which needs to be rectified as soon as possible. I haven’t forgotten my resolution, nor have I given up. I just need some practice, or a lot of practice, at the art of mindful eating.
Here are a few tips on how to eat mindfully:
- Think before eating. Are you really hungry or are you just craving something? What are you really craving? Is it a meal time? When did you last eat and what did you eat? What are you going to eat now? Is it the best choice for your body and your health? Do you need a small snack or a full meal? Are you really thirsty?
- Choose foods that nourish you and serve out your required portion onto a plate, be sure to include plenty of vegetables and/or salad on your plate.
- Chew your food – chew each mouthful as many times as you possibly can. Count. 30 times at least. I read one article that suggested chewing each mouthful 50-1oo times for maximum benefits
- Take smaller bites, it makes it easier to chew your food without having to open your mouth (don’t forget your manners either).
- Finish chewing and swallowing before you take another bite. Don’t shove food in on top of food!
- Sit down at a table to eat each meal, sit with your feet on the floor and whilst chewing place your hands together in your lap (apparently this position is good for the energy systems in your body whilst you are eating).
- Put down your knife and fork between each bite, chew slowly. Take some time between each bite, if need be imagine yourself walking a lap of the room and then take another bite.
- Be mindful whilst eating; notice the colour, texture, flavours and nourishment provided by your food. Appreciate each mouthful and how it is going to impact upon your body.
- Never eat in front of the TV or eat from an open bag of snacks (whatever it may be). This is my number 1 downfall in eating too much, because it is so difficult to judge how much you have eaten from an open packet and all to easy to polish a whole packet off in one go. If you want such snacks, take a small bowl or cup and place a portion of the snack inside. Put the snack packet back in the cupboard and just eat the portion from the cup.
- Prepare food at home. Take the time to appreciate the freshness of the ingredients and the process of cooking and preparing them.
- Say grace. Whether or not you are religious, say (or think) thanks for your food and the nourishment it is about to provide to you.
- Stop eating when 80% full. This is the key to hara hachi bu, it is the point at which you are satisfied but NOT full. You could eat more but you are no longer hungry.
There is a lot of wisdom behind mindful eating and chewing your food thoroughly. Chewing your food and mindful eating:
- Increases nutrient and energy uptake from food, as your food is broken down into very small particles before it hits your digestive system, making it easier to further breakdown and assimilate into the body.
- Helps you maintain a healthy weight (very important), because as you chew your food and eat mindfully you increase the amount of time it takes to finish a meal and therefore you are more likely to feel satisfied before you feel too full and you will naturally decrease portion sizes as you realise how much food you actually need.
- Improves digestion, as food is almost liquified before it hits your stomach, making the process of digestion a lot easier and resulting in less bloating and gas (oh how wonderful!).
- Improves teeth health and strength, because chewing is like a workout for your teeth (say CHEESE!).
- Increases longevity – particularly hara hachi bu – as eating consistent and controlled portions increases life expectancy, decreases risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity.
- You are able to taste and appreciate your food.
- Makes the eating experience more enjoyable, as you get to enjoy your food minus the ‘food baby’ afterwards!
Wish me luck with my mindful eating adventure! I shall report back soon, hopefully with some news of progress.