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Learn the art of mindful eating

Jen Thomas

Muscle Trainer, Pre & Post-Natal Exercise Expert, and Nutrition Coach

10 min read

When trying to lose weight how you eat is just as important as what you eat! There’s so much happening in our life nowadays – the pace is quick and we find ourselves rushing about our days at unrelenting speed! This means we are consuming our food at a record pace just as everything we need to do. Even people who love their food and consider themselves foodies find it difficult to sit down and really enjoy their meals.

But what does slow eating have to do with weight loss? First, let me walk you through the hunger cycle.

It all starts with the rumbling of UR stomach, indicating that U need refueling. When you start getting hungry, you may start thinking about food, imagining the delicious food that awaits you at your next meal. You may start to feel impatient, and begin to look at the clock, or, snap at a work colleague because you’re “hangry”. All of these physical and emotional signs indicate that your body is getting low on fuel, and it won’t be long before U can’t push the hunger any longer, and get up and hunt for food.

If you discover that UR extremely hungry, you may start wolfing down UR food without even tasting it! You take spoon after spoon, helping after helping, but nothing seems to be filling you up. Suddenly, the feeling hits you. You are feeling full, in fact, a little too full, and you lie down on the couch to relieve your discomfort.

How come your stomach didn’t tell your brain that you were getting full? Our brain and stomach is connected but not at a 4G pace – it’s more like internet dial up from the 1990s. You experience this because it takes time for UR stomach to send a message to UR brain that U R full. This takes 20 minutes.

Learn the art of mindful eating

To master the “How to Eat” skill, you have three tasks to learn. These tasks will provide you with the very foundation of a healthy diet, and arguably, are just as important as learning what to put on your plate.

Firstly, you need to eat slowly; eat until U R 80% full and try and understand UR hungry and satiety cues. Though this may sound easy, it doesn’t mean it’s simple to do.

1. Eat slowly

Paying attention to how long it takes for U to eat UR meals is about bringing awareness and enjoyment back into UR meal times. When you eat slowly you begin to uncover hidden flavours, aromas and textures to your food that you otherwise wouldn’t experience. The eating experience becomes more rich and enjoyable, and therefore, more mentally satisfying.

It’s also a lesson in how to enjoy UR food again. After all, food is delicious for a reason – U should enjoy it! But when you eat too quickly, it gets difficult to enjoy the food and you don’t taste it!

But how is this related to weight loss? If you are eating too quickly and therefore continually overeating at the majority of UR meals – you are likely over consuming the amount of calories required to maintain UR weight or at least to stop you from gaining more weight!

It may not seem like much at first – but even a modest overconsumption of calories on a daily basis can lead to 10, 20 or 30 pounds of excess weight over the years, which could have been avoided had you paid attention to what you were eating!

2.Understanding what “full” feels like (80%)

“Hara hachi bu” is a Japanese saying that roughly translates to mean “eat until 80% full”. It originates from the Okinawa Island of Japan, where their life expectancy is one of the longest in the world, and they routinely live up to 100 years of age!

The concept of eating until you are “just satisfied” – not hungry, not stuffed, but simply to a position where you don’t want any more food. By first slowing down our food consumption to the 20 minutes that it takes the stomach and the brain to sync up, we then have it in our power to stop eating when our body no longer requires food. It’s all about teaching ourselves awareness and the discipline to stop eating, when our eyes are bigger than our stomachs.

This can be a habit that’s tough to break, built over years of allowing that second helping, or letting ourselves be swayed when offered “another piece”. It’s something you have to actively practice slowing down to get better at it.

Here is a trick to master this skill – eating until 80% full doesn’t start at meal time – it should start way before that. There’s no point trying to teach URself to eat slowly if UR always starving when you sit down for UR meals! It’s just NOT a great time to learn a new skill as UR primary focus is to get food into UR body.

3. Understanding Your Hunger & Satiety Cues

To truly master “how to eat”, you need to start becoming aware of how your body feels after UR last meal. You need to become aware of how full are you after this meal. On a scale of 1-10 and (1 being not at all satisfied and 10 being full to the brim) where does this meal sit for you? Let’s use the scale of 1-10 to check back in with UR hunger as you progress through the day.

The first hour past UR meal – you should feel about 1-2 on the hunger scale. At 2 hours (may be 3-5 on the hunger scale) by 3 hours you may experience a little niggle of hunger and by 4 plus hours U will likely be hungry again. This is where many people make a crucial mistake. They try to push their hunger for another 2-3 hours because that’s the time they’ve decided to have dinner.

Now that you’ve made it through the 4 plus hours between UR meals – you should feel hungry about 7 out of 10 on the hunger scale. If you don’t feel hungry – that’s okay. Wait till UR body tells you that you are. When at 7 out of 10 you should have enough wits about you to practice slow eating during UR next meal.

If you notice, four hours after breakfast is usually lunch time, however, four hours after lunch time is usually early evening – earlier than most people are scheduled to eat dinner. Some people try and power through this feeling, and land up at the dinner table starving. If you eat something small around the time you feel hungry, chances are U won’t be as famished at UR next meal, so plan a small healthy snack around that time.

If you are continually overeating at the majority of UR meals and ignoring UR satiety cues – U are likely over consuming the amount of calories required to maintain UR weight.

Learn the art of mindful eating
Putting it into practice

Let’s paint a scene for how you can get into the mood of eating slow. Visualize that you and UR partner decide that it’s date night – you book a lovely restaurant where outstanding food is served. U R seated at UR table and U notice that the environment is calm and soothing – the waiter is calm and takes his time. You don’t feel rushed into making any decision quickly. When the food is laid out – you take in how good and delicious it all looks. You take in the aroma and analyze the bit that will be UR first bite.

You roll the flavors around UR tongue and you enjoy the wonderful experience. You are enjoying so much; you can make this dining experience last for even two hours. What can you take away from this fine dining experience and replicate in UR evening meals? Can you at least try to make UR dinners at home last 20 minutes? Make it UR goal to time URself and make UR meals last 20 minutes.

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For fast eaters this may sound daunting as this is ‘a lot of time’ if U R used to eating UR meals in 4-5 minutes! For this reason, you can create a log for URself to time how long it takes for you to eat at UR next meal. Whatever that time is, just try to add 1-2 minutes to it and practice that for the next week. Increase that time with 1-2 minutes the next week. Over time, you will build UR capacity to take longer and longer at each meal. Another tactic could be to observe the slowest eater at UR table. You can even play a game with UR family to check who the slowest eater is – the slowest eater gets to be the winner! Try and make it fun.

Now shift UR focus to UR food. It’s easier to time UR food intake than it is to sit down and enjoy it. When we lose focus we enjoy our food less and we tend to eat more! Try to experience UR food in a whole new way every time you eat. Food doesn’t have to be something that just gets you from A to B. It can be something you enjoy as well. It doesn’t have to be something you avoid and deprive yourself of in order to lose weight. If you focus on UR food, enjoy it and wait for 20 minutes – chances are you’ll start feeling naturally full! When U R 80% full means U R not outrageously stuffed but satisfied. You needn’t eat another bite.

You can use slow eating and eating up to 80% full in any circumstance. For instance, you can focus on UR nutrition without bring too much awareness to UR diet and table when you go out. You can eat slowly and register when UR 80% full and are less likely to overeat UR calories.

These same two skills can be practiced when U are at a dinner party or buffet too. Try to eat small portions that U R used to. Before U decide to take another serving, have a glass of water – just to see if you can highlight that feeling of being full.

At times when you cannot control the servings and portion size or when U feel compelled to continue eating to get UR money’s worth, like at a restaurant – you can always ask the waiter to bring U half the portion. If they can’t do that – ask them to pack the other half to take home.

Another tip is to not keep the serving dishes at the center of the table at home to avoid continually serving yourself. Keep the dishes in the kitchen and serve UR plate in there. This way, to get seconds you have to physically get up and go there. This works like a bit of a deterrent and you can then actually register if U R full and need the second helping or not.

Yet another every effective way to reduce UR calories is to reduce the size of UR plate. You may also use a bowl. If you choose a smaller surface to serve your food on, it looks bountiful and like a small feast for your eyes! You will also feel more satisfied with what you eat.

Ultimately, you have to find the system of success that works best for you in UR home set up. If none of these suggestions work – play around and see what does! After all, learning how to enjoy UR food according to UR body’s requirements is going to take time to reestablish. Don’t forget to practice self-compassion along the way.