Mindful eating & weight loss: Can it really help?
Could something as straightforward as focussing on our senses help us to eat less and more fully enjoy our meals?
A growing body of evidence shows that eating with full attention, also known as mindful eating can help to reduce food cravings, suppress appetite and aid weight loss.
How does it work?
Mindful eating is not a diet. There are no foods to cut out, cut down on or eat more of. It is simply being more aware of your eating habits, and the thoughts and emotions that you have about food. Eating mindfully is about how you eat rather than what you eat.
Many people eat while watching TV, driving, checking emails or even talking on the telephone. Often this means that we eat too quickly, and don’t enjoy our food as much, so we have to eat more to feel satisfied. Sound familiar?
Slower mindful eating also allows us time to feel satisfied with fewer calories. When we eat quickly, we often eat more calories than we actually need since it takes about 20 minutes for our stomachs to tell our brains that we’re full. By chewing food thoroughly and savouring the taste and texture of every mouthful, we feel full with smaller portions.
Furthermore, eating with full awareness enables us to more easily recognise our physical sensations of hunger and fullness, meaning that we are more likely to stop eating when we are full. This helps us to more fully enjoy the tastes and flavours of our food whilst consuming fewer calories.
We become better at distinguishing between emotional and physical hunger. Cravings for specific foods can often be driven by feelings such as boredom, sadness or excitement. These cravings frequently pass if we are able to distract ourselves for a few minutes. Physical hunger comes on more slowly, and can be felt in the stomach. Usually our food preference is flexible when we experience physical hunger.
Eating mindfully has also been shown to reduce the levels of cortisol, one of the body’s stress hormones. During times of prolonged stress, the body releases cortisol, which can increase appetite. This is the biological mechanism that explains why we feel hungrier during times of extended stress. Mindful eating can help to alleviate feelings of stress, and therefore reduce cortisol levels.
How can I incorporate mindful eating?
So, mindful eating simply means being aware of what you’re putting into your mouth. Sounds simple doesn’t it? In reality though, this is often overlooked, and mealtimes become an art in multitasking. Think back over the past week; when did you simply eat lunch without checking emails, worrying about the children, flicking through a magazine or thinking about the afternoons’ tasks?
Try the following tips:
- Eat one meal this week without distractions. Switch off the TV, phone and computer and set aside time for eating without other entertainment.
- Only eat at the table. Get into the habit of only eating when you’re sitting down, no more snacking on the run!
- Chew each mouthful at least 25 to 30 times before beginning the next. Savour the appearance, scent, texture and subtle flavours of every bite. Focus on how much you like, or dislike these sensations.
- Use cutlery (where possible) and put it down between mouthfuls. It’s much easier to take smaller portions when using a knife and fork.
- Be honest with yourself about how close you are to feeling full and stop long before you’re uncomfortable.
- Eat from a smaller plate so that you feel more satisfied if you finish it
- When you feel hungry ask yourself if you’re feeling physical or emotional hunger. If it’s emotional hunger, try a distraction such as going for a walk, drinking a glass of water or phoning a friend.
Whether practicing mindful eating at home, work or on holiday, the message is simple; savour your food. After all, eating is one of life’s simplest pleasures.
You can learn more about mindful eating and weight-loss on our Behaviour Change Coaching course here
Written by Kristelle McNeir