One of the easiest changes we can make while trying to lose weight is to bring more awareness to our meals. Many of us eat on the go, in the car, or as we’re multitasking. It’s not uncommon that meals are consumed in under 10 minutes. These meals tend to be less satisfying, take longer to digest (as our bodies have to work harder to break down pieces of food that may have been swallowed whole), and often leave us unfulfilled and hungry again soon after. By following the guidelines below, our bodies have the opportunity to work more efficiently, and meal times may become more pleasurable.
Eat in a distraction-free setting: In a world that is quickly advancing technologically, it can be difficult to step away from our electronic devices. Many of us are eating while simultaneously watching TV, using our cell phones or e-readers, or typing on the computer. In addition, many meals are eaten each day while driving, working, or multitasking in some other way. All of these distractions mean more calories consumed, without even realizing it. By removing these distractions, we can pay more attention to the food in front of us, and perhaps also pay more attention to those that we’re with. If possible, try sitting for all of your meals. Turn off the TV. Put electronic devices away. Mealtimes should be relaxed, comforting and enjoyable, not rushed or stressful. A calm body and quiet mind allow us to center our attention on our food and the company we share it with.
Use all the senses: Here’s a challenge: Try touching, looking at, and smelling foods before eating them, just like young children do. Notice all the characteristics and properties of the food before you begin to eat it. Take time to notice how the food feels on your taste buds. Which taste buds are activated? We have mouths capable of sensing a variety of flavors and tastes, yet when we eat in a hurry we may only be recognizing one or two.
Chew thoroughly: Chewing plays an essential role in digestion. Our teeth were meant to break down large food particles, and digestive enzymes begin secreting as we chew. Thoroughly chewed food can be digested and absorbed much more quickly than whole food particles, so the more we chew, the less work our body has to do to break things down. Plus, by chewing thoroughly, we automatically eat less, by giving our brain more time to catch up with our stomachs. Start by challenging yourself to chew each bite at least 20 times. You’ll be amazed at how long that can take- and how much less you’ll eat!
Practice gratitude: Think about where your food comes from. Think about the farmer that planted and picked the crop, the driver that delivered it to the market or to your home, the family member or restaurant chef who took the time to create something nourishing and delicious. Thank them in your mind. Then thank yourself for choosing to eat such wonderful, nutritious foods. Bringing appreciation to the table helps to remind us of how connected we really are with our food, how many people it takes to get it on our tables, and how important it is to our overall health.
All of these strategies have one thing in common: they take time. It’s true: eating a meal as quickly as possible will save you time, but how much time if your body then has to shut down all other metabolic functions to focus on digestion? When the body isn’t able to get other things done, we risk discomfort (while digesting), weight gain, and possibly even disease and dysfunction. Plus, we’re missing out on the joy, the delight, and the deliciousness of our food. So if your goal is to lose weight, feel better, or be more mindful; slow down. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy your food.