Have you ever thought about the amount of time it takes you to eat a meal? As a general rule, are you a speedy eater, getting the job done or do you take a more leisurely, slower approach? Are you completely distracted when you’re eating, scrolling through your phone or watching the TV, or do you savour each mouthful? Or maybe you’re somewhere in between?
As you’re reading this, I bet you know which style of eating is better for you, but do you know why eating more mindfully is beneficial?
Slowing down gives your brain the time it needs to receive fullness signals and therefore you are more likely to consume a lot less. It’s possible that you’re not fully tuned in to the first fullness signals you receive.
Let me explain what happens.
As you may well be aware, your stomach is about the size of your fist and as the food enters and the stomach walls start to stretch, specialised nerves cells are activated, sending high-speed messages to the brain to say that food is entering, registering the volume of food you’ve eaten. This is your first clue of increasing fullness and because it happens immediately, these are the signals that you need to re-learn to listen to, to gauge how much you’ve eaten. Eating more mindfully will enable that re-education.
Note: Because the above signals are about your stomach wall stretching, it’s all about volume and our nerve cells are not discerning! You could be eating the same volume of steamed veg as chips or chocolate pudding! Worth thinking about!
If you haven’t mastered recognising these first signals, you have probably been relying on the slower, hormonal communication which uses the blood stream and takes about 20 minutes for our brains to register that we’ve had enough to eat. Ghrelin is the hunger hormone, which is suppressed after eating a meal, while leptin helps break down the food and sends signals to the brain that you have eaten, reducing appetite, making you feel full, and helping you stop eating! As previously mentioned, this whole process takes about 20 minutes, so think about just how much you can consume in that time if you eat quickly!
Have you ever thought about how many times you actually chew your food? Probably not as much as you should – I know that if I’m in a rush, I certainly don’t. Chewing your food properly has many benefits:
The more you chew, the slower you’ll eat and studies have found that those chewing food properly consume significantly less food yet felt fuller than those who ate quicker. Another study shows that chewing more during mealtimes reduces snacking later in the day.
Chewing properly will help your body to absorb more nutrients and energy from your food. Again, this will help you to eat less because your body won’t be craving the unabsorbed nutrients.
Chewing properly aids your digestive process. Your saliva contains enzymes that help to breakdown foods. Therefore more chewing means longer exposure to saliva which means longer exposure to those all important enzymes. When food is not digested properly, you can suffer from digestive issues such as indigestion, acidity, bloating, heartburn, constipation, headache and low energy.
According to experts, the magic number to chew your food is a whopping 32 times before swallowing. Obviously it depends on what you’re chewing, so a softer more watery food would take less, whereas things like steak and nuts may require even more chews per mouthful. Try it and see how you get on – it’s a lot of chewing and if I’m honest, I’ve found it all a bit laborious, so I just try to have a bit more awareness. What you need to achieve by chewing is to break down your food so it loses texture.
How distracted are you when you eat?
Are you watching TV, messaging on your mobile, scrolling through Insta or TikTok, writing a report, going through your emails – any of these ring a bell? Research shows that people eating without distraction consume a lot fewer calories and report a higher rate of satisfaction from their meal.
And what about the enjoyment factor? When you really focus on the food you’re eating, how it’s presented, how it smells, the textures, the flavours, you’ll really taste the food properly, maximising the pleasure. Really concentrate on it, get the most out of it, taste it and you’ll enjoy it all the more. Taste, notice and enjoy every bite!
Below is a quick and easy exercise that I would really encourage you to try. All my clients have
found it eye opening.
Mindful Eating Exercise
All you’ll need for this exercise are two pieces of food – it can be anything you like. Chocolate works well here, but you can honestly choose anything.
Pop the first piece of food into your mouth and eat it as fast as you possibly can. How did it taste? Did you enjoy it? What else did you notice?
Take a couple of breaths and a sip of water to reset
Make sure you’re not distracted and you’re feeling calm and relaxed and pick up the next piece of food. Now take a more mindful approach. Note what it looks like, how it smells and how it feels in your hand. Now pop it into your mouth and slowly roll it around your cheeks and then slowly eat it, focusing on the texture and flavour. Now ask yourself the same questions as above and compare the two.
I found this exercise fascinating and it really helped me to slow down and eat more mindfully! I’d love to know how you get on!
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