What did you have for lunch yesterday? Where did you eat it? Can you take a moment to describe in detail the sensations you experienced as you ate your meal? Jane Pikett considers the case for mindful eating…
How did you do with the questions above? Assuming you’re like most of the population, you probably had to think about the first two, and most likely struggled with the last one.
That’s because, much of the time we eat unconsciously, distracted from the food on our plate and in our mouths by our phones, other people, the telly, even driving the car at the same time as eating (never a good idea if you hope to arrive at your destination without your dinner down your front).
All this adds up to unconscious eating, which is particularly prevalent at lunchtime, when we tend to rush or eat on the go. Unlike the French, for whom lunch is sacred (if you’ve ever tried to get in the way of a Frenchman and his lunch, you will know this all too well), we rush ours, eating at our desk, on the move, sometimes skipping it entirely.
The result of joyless lunches of shop-bought sarnies and crisps at our desks, or rushed mouthfuls between other tasks is potential damage to our digestive health, weight gain, and a lack of appreciation for our food.
This is where adopting the habit of eating mindfully comes in. This means restoring your attention and slowing down, making eating an intentional act instead of an automatic one. That doesn’t mean lunch has to take a Gallic two hours, but it does mean sitting down at the table, eating from a plate, and doing nothing else but that, even for a whole half hour (imagine that… 30 minutes directing your attention only to your food!).
It can take your mind up to 20 minutes to realise you’re full, which means that mindless eating, apart from the fact that it diminishes our appreciation of our food, can pile on the pounds, because the brain’s ‘full’ signal doesn’t get time to kick in.
Arguably just as importantly, shouldn’t we give ourselves a little time each day to enjoy and savour our food?
Nutritionists say that people who truly pay attention to their food eat less (because of the 20 minute ‘full’ signal) and make better choices, a. because they notice their food more and think about the nutritional quality of what they’re eating, and b. because mindful means being fully attentive to your food as you buy, prepare, serve and consume it.
So, as we step into a new decade, why not welcome it with a renewed pleasure in food and the health benefits which go with it?
How to eat mindfully
• Make time to eat. Introducing a rule that says ‘I must sit and eat this meal at a table, slowly and thoughtfully considering each mouthful and the sensations I am experiencing’ forces you to take your time and avoid eating on the run. If you have to spend a whole 30 minutes away from your email at lunchtime, then so be it!
• Eat slowly and without distraction. Leave your desk and sit elsewhere, remove yourself from your phone, your newspaper, the telly – everything. It’s not as scary as it sounds! Then chew each mouthful properly and savour it.
• Listen to your body. Unconscious eaters pile on the pounds because they don’t listen to their body’s signals, or because they eat so quickly, the signals don’t have chance to kick in. Slow down, take your time to chew properly, put your knife and fork down between mouthfuls, and tune into the sensations in your body.
• Are you hungry? Eat when you’re beginning to feel hunger pangs, not according to the clock, and don’t wait until you’re so hungry you have the shakes, because then you’re just going to grab the nearest thing and eat it as quickly as possible to boost your blood sugar.
• Take pleasure in your food. Engage your senses and notice the smells, textures, colours, sounds and flavours of your food. You may be surprised at how much more you enjoy it.
• Ditch the diet! There is no banned food because most people, when they get into the habit of eating mindfully, give their brain and body time to let them know what they need – and if that’s a slice of chocolate cake, that’s fine! Eating mindfully is about achieving balance in the way you eat and what you eat. Savour the cake slowly and consciously and you will achieve satisfaction from it. Shove it in your mouth on the go and barely taste it, and you’re likely to go for another slice.
• Reflect on your food. Give yourself a minute at the end of your meal to sit back and reflect on what you enjoyed, what you didn’t, how satisfied you feel, the flavours, colours and textures you have just experienced, and how different your body feels now that you’ve eaten compared to before. Then, and only then, may you leave the table and go back to your busy life…until the next meal!