Mindful eating - drop those pounds the easy way

Sarah Keogh

It's no fad diet but eating slowly and mindfully is proving to be the simplest way to lose weight.

The Zen-inspired mindful eating movement is gaining devotees from the boardroom of Google to celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Goldie Hawn and Gwyneth Paltrow.

The good news is that it seems to work.

New research unveiled in Sweden suggests that keeping food in the mouth for longer periods not only reduces overall meal size but improves the sense of fullness.

Our busy working and social lives means that often when we do find the time to eat, we gobble it down.

But wolfing down meals could be enough to nearly double our risk of being overweight.

Conversely, taking a few minutes extra with each meal results in less calorie consumption and can have profound health benefits.

A UK study found that the average adult spends a combined total of just 23 minutes a day eating breakfast, lunch and dinner.

This contrasts with 29 minutes taken by the average family to eat dinner on weekdays in the 1950s.

People are spending just six minutes on breakfast, eight on lunch and only nine minutes eating dinner.

The research, commissioned by Conscious Food, also found that one in five people never sat at a table to eat and one in three admitted to eating so fast they barely noticed the taste of the food.

Eating on the run has also become a feature of modern living, with 33pc of people eating one meal while on the go and almost half those surveyed thinking nothing of eating one or more meals at the desk.

While there is no equivalent data in Ireland, the 2011 Bord Bia What Ireland Ate Last Night study found that 35pc of all Irish evening meals are eaten while watching TV. With pizza on the menu, this figure rises to 51 per cent.

Dublin-based consultant dietitian Sarah Keogh believes that mindful eating is the key to slowing down.

"I find that Irish people tend to eat to get it out of the way, so they can do something else. They don't really eat to eat. In fact, they don't give it any focus or attention."

She stresses that it can take up to 20 minutes for the stomach to tell the brain that it is full. "If you bolt your lunch in eight or nine minutes, the brain simply hasn't time to tell you that you have eaten enough.

"When you get people to slow down it makes an incredible difference," she explained.

Her observations are backed by international research. A study at the University of Rhode Island found that slow eaters consumed two ounces of food per minute. This contrasts with the 3.1 ounces consumed by fast eaters. The fast eaters also took larger bites and chewed less before swallowing.

In 2011, a cross-national survey of over 3,000 people in Japan confirmed how eating too quickly could be enough to almost double a woman's risk of being overweight while fast-eating men were 84pc more likely to be overweight.

A study, meanwhile, which appeared in 'The Journal of Pediatrics' in May showed that watching TV while eating caused weight increase among children.

Smartphone apps, vibrating forks and talking plates are among the devices now on the market to teach us how to slow down.

But Dr Muireann Cullen, dietician and manager of Nutrition and Health Foundation which promotes a healthy Ireland, believes we only have to look to young children to relearn good eating habits.

"Even babies are very good with portion control. They will eat what they want and turn away and you can't rush young children eating. They will take their time, take breaks between mouthfuls and stop when they have had enough.

"It is by the age of five or six that we start overriding our natural instincts," she said.

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