That we should sit down at the dining table and eat our food slowly, being fully attentive to it, may sound obvious, but many of us do the exact opposite. The fact is that we have a lot to gain from slowing down the tempo at which we eat. There is a diet philosophy called ‘mindful eating’ that is all about precisely that, and which may well be the single thing that is missing for many people who are striving to feel well!

Make it quick, or ease up on the tempo?
It’s time for you to sit down and eat but the clock is ticking. You’re late for a meeting. You want to have time to slump down on the sofa to watch a TV series. The children are larking about and demanding your attention. Your mobile pings – you’ve got a new email! Best to hurry and eat up your food so that you can get cracking with all those other things! After all, your food just has to go down into your stomach, doesn’t it?

Trying to save time is something that permeates all of our daily lives. In the last hundred years, we have saved masses of time by making everyday life easier. We have lifts, refrigerators, microwave ovens, the internet, fast food, etc. All to save time. And yet we lack time more than ever. And it’s not as though our efficiency is so great for our health – how we eat food is an example of that.

Mindless Eating – linked to both weight gain and digestive problems
Do you eat food at speed and barely have time to chew it before you swallow? Well, that makes it more difficult for the body to register that it’s full in time, and you run a greater risk of eating more food than you actually need. Studies have shown that people who chew their food forty times eat smaller quantities of food compared with those who chew their food fifteen times. Researchers have also noted that the ‘hunger hormone’ ghrelin decreases when food is chewed several times. Taking it easy at the dining table can therefore contribute to better weight control.

Eating food quickly and ‘mindlessly’ can also make your stomach bloated and gassy. Remember that the mouth is the first station in the gastrointestinal tract; this is where food is chewed and mixed with enzymes. In other words, you help your body do its mechanical work by chewing properly.

Slow down with Mindful Eating
Mindfulness is a method that is used to manage stress and relieve anxiety and disquiet. It takes its inspiration from the Buddhist philosophy of life but has nothing to do with religion – rather it’s about being present in the now, which is known as consciously present. Mindfulness is about accepting your thoughts and feelings, and realising that you’re good enough as you are. Breathing is used as an anchor to turn your attention inwards. There has been an enormous amount of research on mindfulness, and studies have shown that it has several positive effects, both physical and mental.

Linking the philosophy to food as well is a recent development. Mindful Eating is a long way from ‘diet thinking’ and is about getting food out of your head and moving your focus down into your body instead. Eating ‘mindfully’ is about experiencing and noticing how we react to food – without passing judgment.

Huge benefits to be gained
One benefit you’ll recognise quite quickly is that you feel more pleasantly full and that your stomach is more settled. There can be many long-term benefits: your body may feel lighter, you may find you feel satisfied with less food, your weight may stabilise, or you may lose weight, you may feel more alert and happier, and you may have a well-functioning digestive system, to name but a few.

Nowadays, there are many people who are tired of dieting and realise that they need something else to feel well in the long term. Maybe people have been so focused on avoiding carbohydrates or gluten that they find it’s nice to change their focus to HOW they eat food and listen to their body’s signals instead. My experience as a nutritionist is that many people who try mindful eating get the good results they had failed to achieve earlier.

Oryoki & Hara Hachi Bu
Curious about what makes the people of Okinawa in Japan the population with the longest life expectancy in the world? Their food culture! Oryoki is Japanese for ‘just enough’ and involves eating food slowly and mindfully so that the amount eaten is precisely enough. The expression ‘Hara Hachi Bu’ is also used in Japan, meaning that you eat until you’re 80% full.

Curious about Mindful Eating?

If you’re curious about introducing more mindful eating into your life, you need to be patient. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and, in addition, there may be circumstances that make it more difficult for people to follow this principle to the full (having small children around comes to mind!). Take it one step at a time, and accept that you’ll need to practise! In the same way as you have to train hard to become good at a particular sport, you have to practise mindful eating where perseverance and practising the technique will help you to become proficient.

Here are five suggestions as to how you can practise mindful eating:

  1. When you’re eating – just eat. Put away your tablet, computer and mobile, and switch off the TV and radio. Eat your food paying attention to it without distraction. This can be applied to exercising as well – when you’re exercising, just exercise!
  2. Switch on your awareness.Connect with your senses when you’re eating. What does it taste like – sour, sweet, bitter, salty? What is the texture like? What colour and shape is the food? What does it smell like? Imagine you’re at a wine tasting!
  3. Ease up on the tempo.Eat slowly and chew your food properly. Put your cutlery down a few times, and make every meal take at least 20 minutes to eat. Breathe between chews.
  4. Just enough.Try to get to a pleasant feeling of being full – you should neither feel hungry nor stuffed after a meal. Establish what amount of food you need to feel ‘80% full’.
  5. Unlink positive and negative associations from food.See food as food and not as a reward or a punishment. Learn to listen to your body with sensitivity, and treat yourself with love and empathy.

This is Mindful Eating

  • Experiencing your food
  • Connecting with your senses during meals
  • Being in the now
  • Chewing your food properly
  • Eating until you feel pleasantly full
  • Listening to your body’s signals
  • Quality before quantity
  • Having a neutral approach to food

This is Mindless Eating

  • Eating certain meals standing up
  • Sorting out your work emails while you eat
  • Eating a snack while you put on your trainers (because you suddenly realised that you’d forgotten to eat for four hours)
  • Chatting and laughing constantly during meals
  • Eating your food within less than 15 minutes
  • Often forgetting what you ate
  • Frequent binge eating
  • Often feeling unpleasantly full
  • Using food as a ‘de-stressing mechanism’ or as punishment

Good luck! 🙂

By Alexandra Petersson, nutritionist