Experts believe mindfulness can help with weight management – and there’s no better time to start than now.
WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY ?
There’s some intriguing research that suggests mindful eating could help people with weight problems and steer some away from processed food and less healthy choices. It’s a slower, more thoughtful way of eating, based on the concept of mindfulness. It involves being fully aware of what’s happening within you (in your body, heart and mind) and around you at that moment.
Mindfulness is awareness without criticism or judgement. This may sound quite ‘out there’ but it isn’t simply a practice for tree-huggers. In other areas, mindfulness techniques have been proposed as a way to ease stress and improve problems such as high blood pressure and chronic digestive problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome.
HOW DOES IT WORK ?
It’s all about ‘being present’ while eating. That doesn’t mean comparing yourself to others or judging yourself – you’re simply training yourself to notice the many sensations and thoughts as they come up. You’ll learn to become aware of the colours, smells, flavours, textures and even the sounds of the food. You’ll find you can recognise when you feel full or hungry and you’ll be able to acknowledge emotions such as guilt and anxiety about food.
The first step is to get rid of distractions like the TV or reading. If this is hard – and you enjoy reading during mealtimes, for example – simply alternate reading and eating so you’re not trying to multi-task : read a page, then put the book down and eat a few bites, savouring the tastes, then read another page, and so on.
WHAT EXACTLY DO YOU HAVE TO DO ?
Mindful eating doesn’t happen overnight – it takes practice and patience, but it’s worth it. An easy way to start is simply to take the first four sips of every cup of hot tea or coffee paying full attention. Then aim to eat one meal or snack a day in a slower, more attentive manner, sitting alone and chewing each mouthful slowly. It may help to set a timer to 20 minutes and take that time to eat your normal-sized meal.
HOW CAN IT HELP WITH WEIGHT LOSS ?
“Mindful eating can help if you’re already very aware of healthy eating, but find you’re unable to be consistent in your weight-loss journey,” says registered dietitian Dahlia Kulkarni.
Some of her clients have found success in shifting those extra pounds when including mindful practices along with healthy eating. It can certainly help people to become more attentive and aware of emotional triggers causing them to overeat.
Why not make this the season to break the cycle of over-eating followed by dieting, once and for all ?
- When you’re attuned to what you’re eating an how certain foods make your body feel, it’s easier to choose those that energise you and make you feel good.
- You become more in touch with internal signals about when to start and stop eating.
- Slowing down can help your body digest food better and prevent stomach aches.
- The act of eating can become something that is calm and pleasurable rather than something that’s stressful or hectic. When you start to really taste food you enjoy it more.
- It’s empowering – you decide what, when and how you want to eat, and become free of damaging ‘dieting’ thoughts and behaviours.
REFLECT – Before you start eating, think about how you feel. Are you hungry ? Or rushed, stressed, sad, bored – or eating because the food is in front of you ? If you’re not eating from hunger, food isn’t the solution. Differentiate between your wants and needs. After you have taken this moment to reflect, then you can choose if you want to eat, what you want to eat, how you want to eat.
SIT DOWN – We’ve all heard it before: don’t eat on the go. But there are good reasons to take time out. It’s hard to keep track of how much you’re eating, and you’re less likely to enjoy food, when you’re multi-tasking.
USE A PLATE AT PARTIES – Resist eating straight from the buffet table or taking canapes as they appear under your nose. You’re likely to overeat when you can’t see who much you’ve had, and if you aren’t really seeing the food before putting it in your mouth you won’t fully appreciate it. Choosing a small plate is a simple, visual way to help with portion control – seeing less empty space on the plate gives the illusion that you’re eating more.
EAT YOUR FAVOURITE FOODS, but less often. Savour them, rather than wolfing them down. It will help prevent you fixating on what you can’t have, so when you choose to eat something, you’ll enjoy it more – and probably eat less of it as a result.
TAKE SMALL BITES and chew well. Aim to get 30 chews out of each bite (this is a rough guide – it’s surprisingly easy with toast, but unrealistic with a mouth of oats !). Take time to enjoy the flavours and textures in your mouth before you swallow. This may also help prevent overeating by giving your gut time to send messages to the brain to say you’re full. You need to be eating for at least 20 minutes before that happens.
PUT DOWN YOUR KNIFE AND FORK – Often, we’re already preparing the next mouthful with our knife and fork before we’ve even finished our previous bite. So put the cutlery down after each bite and don’t pick them back up until you’ve enjoyed and swallowed what you already have in your mouth.
CLEAR THE LEFTOVERS – At special occasions, we tend to sit at the table socialising long after the food is finished. To avoid falling into the trap of nibbling on what’s still on the table, clear the food away. If you’re a guest faced with a table full of food, try eating with your non-dominant hand, which will slow you down, or make a conscious decision to push your plate away when you’re finished.
RESIGN FROM THE CLEAN PLATE CLUB – Most of us were brought up to finish everything on our plate and we weren’t allowed to leave the table until we did. Well, you don’t need to follow those rules any more. Consider packing the leftovers for another meal, or just leaving the last few bites. Even though nobody likes to waste food, overstuffing yourself isn’t helping anyone.
PLAN AHEAD – Decide what you’re going to eat in advance. If you’re going to a cocktail party, eat something substantial and healthier at home first. At parties, stand away from the food table with your back facing it and you’ll be less tempted to eat mindlessly while chatting. If there’s a buffet, scan the whole table and decide what you want before you start loading your plate. Alternate alcoholic drinks with water.
ENJOY THE PEACE – Try eating in silence once in a while. When it’s quite, it’s natural for the mind to wander, so acknowledge these thoughts, then see if you can gently return to your experience of eating. Be conscious of the food’s consistency, flavour, tastes and smells, and fully appreciate the moment. Of course, meals with other people are a time to share your day, but just eating in silence for the first few minutes can be refreshing now and then.
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