Sunday 25 August 2019

Slow food: Why eating mindfully is good for you

Have you ever looked down at your plate and not really remembered what you've just eaten? Time to put down the fork and take stock

Take your time: Put down your spoon, fork or knife between each mouthful and leave 20 seconds between each bite
Take your time: Put down your spoon, fork or knife between each mouthful and leave 20 seconds between each bite

Orla Walsh

New research has shown that those who gobble down their food quickly are five times more likely to develop metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome or Syndrome X is used to describe a cluster of health problems which puts people at greater risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. This Japanese study also shows that if you eat slowly and mindfully, you're less likely to pile on the pounds. Faster eaters were three times more likely to gain three stone in a five-year period.

Mindless eating, where the person is wolfing down their meal and distracted by either their environment or what's going on in their head, has become all too familiar for Irish people. Although obesity has many factors, devouring food at a fast pace leads to eating to excess. It's none too surprising that mindful eating - eating more slowly and being more conscious of what you're putting in your mouth - is growing in popularity, with many scientific reports showing a multitude of health benefits.

For those prone to binge eating, research suggests that episodes can be halved by mastering the art of mindful eating. It has been shown to result in a half-stone weight loss after just 10 sessions as well as fat lost around the waist. With many people reporting mindless eating is triggered by stress, mindful eating has been shown to not only reduce stress hormone levels but also decrease anxiety. It even helps to prevent weight gain when going through a stressful time.

The studies conducted on mindful eating, coupled with this new research on the pace of eating and overall health, highlight the importance of eating calmly and avoiding the habit of gobbling our food which has become common in our hectic lifestyles. Looking down at an empty plate with no memory of eating the meal is too common. Mindful eating will not just improve overall health and be good for waistlines; it will also enhance eating experience and provide more control over food choices.

Mindful eating is about being present when eating and eating with a purpose. It begins with decision making and an awareness of the body's hunger and satiety cues.

It's about being conscious of the food, the nourishment it's providing and the journey it has taken from farm to fork to get to the plate. Mindful eating allows a person to wake up and take notice of what they're doing. With a greater understanding of behaviours comes an enhanced ability to make meaningful change.

10 steps to success

1. Take 20 deep breaths

Deep breaths help to calm a person and prime them for their mindful eating experience. Do not start your meal in a rush.

2. Take smaller mouthfuls

Each mouthful should be the size of a 20 cent coin. Taking in a smaller volume of food per bit reduces the number of calories eaten per minute, an important factor in obtaining and maintaining a healthy weight.

3. Chew your food more

You should aim to chew each mouthful 20 times. Your mouth full of teeth is designed to mechanically break down food. The stomach is less well equipped. This is why inadequate mastication leads to common digestive complaints such as heartburn and indigestion.

4. Take a break

Put down your spoon, fork or knife between each mouthful. Leave 20 seconds between each bite. Do not rush your meals. They should not be eaten in less than five minutes. Time your meals and try to elongate them.

5. Practice mindful eating

Pick a 'treat food'. Look at it, taking note of its appearance, texture and smell. What happens in your body when you look at it? Place a small amount in your mouth and don't chew it. Simply let it sit there. After four deep breaths, allow yourself to chew it and note any difference in flavour and texture after you started chewing it. How does eating it this slowly differ to your usual experience? Think about this from a mental and physical perspective.

6. Find your triggers

Certain triggers, either internal or external, can lead to mindless eating. Simple adjustments can help you avoid triggers or prevent you succumbing to your less healthy daily habits allowing you to eat in a more controlled fashion. For example, put on runners when coming in from work instead of slippers, eat off smaller plates in the evening, drink alcohol from a smaller glass, keep less healthy foods out of sight or order half portions at restaurants.

7. Build upon your personal awareness

Every person is different. There are many factors influencing eating decisions, such as smells, the company you're with, your environment and time. You need to assess yourself to understand yourself. The factors which impact your eating behaviour are unique.

8. Rate yourself

Rate your hunger on a scale ranging from 0 to 10 (0 being the most hungry and 10 being the least hungry). What does a 0 feel like physically when you're extremely hungry? What does a 10 feel like, when you're as full as you can imagine? Keep a note of what your physical cues are and how they impact your food choice and behaviours.

9. Experiment with different levels of fullness

For example you may find that a rating of 7 compared to a rating of 9 with regards to fullness after your lunch does not make any difference to your eating behaviour later in the day.

10. Keep learning

The concept of mindful eating is growing in popularity and with it the number of techniques to reduce mindless eating. Have a look at the table  and begin today...

Mindful eating: The key questions

Ask yourself: 'Why do I eat?'

Pondering points: Physical hunger, stress, visual cues, energy, boredom, habit.

Ask yourself: "When do I want to eat?"

Pondering points: Time of day, physical hunger cues, emotions.

Ask yourself: "What impacts what I eat?"

Pondering points: Convenience, taste, comfort, cost, nutrition.

Ask yourself: "How do I eat?"

Pondering points: Rushed, mindful, distracted, secretive, on-the-go.

Ask yourself: "How much do I eat?"

Pondering points: Plate size, fullness cues, package size, habit, company.

Ask yourself: "Where does the energy go?"

Pondering points: Invigorating, sluggish, guilt, shame, sport, work, play.

Irish Independent

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