I may be starting to lose some of the feeling in my fingers and toes when walking to the grocery store or skiing down the slopes, but I can certainly feel the hustle-bustle of the upcoming holiday season in the air. Besides rushing from point A to point B to avoid the cold, everyone seems to be in hurry to finish up their holiday preparations, gift shopping, and travel planning for Christmas and New Year’s. With so much time spent on the go, it can become infinitely harder to slow back down and be present, particularly throughout the holiday season. This phenomenon surely doesn’t exclude our eating habits. When it comes to slowing down while we eat, what we’re really referring to is mindful eating.
Mindful eating is deliberately paying attention, non-judgmentally, to your eating experience. It helps us sharpen our hunger and satisfaction signals and is a powerful tool that can improve overall health. There is a wealth of scientific data that mindfulness, particularly in our eating habits, can help to improve our eating behaviours, develop a healthy relationship with food, and support weight control. It’s also a way to savor and appreciate your food.
Eating mindfully isn’t something you can simply achieve overnight. It truly is a practice – a habit or custom that needs to be repeated systematically to acquire a specific skill. As is true with any practice, it’s complex and multifaceted. As the excitement of the holiday season continues, I’d like to focus on one component of mindful eating – eating more slowly – with a couple of tips to get you started.
Dedicate your mealtimes
Start by sitting down at a proper table for a meal, rather than inhaling food between meetings, standing over your kitchen sink, or on-the-go. By doing so, you bring more awareness to the fact that you’re eating a meal. Make sure to turn off the TV and put away your phone, laptop, book, work, or anything else that takes you away from your meal. Resist the urge to multitask for the duration of your meal.
Focus on your chewing
Ever realize how many times you chew before you swallow? At your next meal or snack, take a moment to count how many times you chew before triggering your swallow. If you’re like most, you’re likely quite a ways away from the recommended 20. Chewing your food until smooth not only delays the time between taking a bite and swallowing, it also supports better digestion.
Fork-over your utensils between bites
By putting your fork down in-between bites, you’re encouraged to focus more attention on chewing and are more likely to savor each bite. This small change prevents you from going into “shoveling mode” – the mindless priming of your fork with the next bite before you’ve even tasted what’s in your mouth – thereby slowing the pace of your meal.
Drag out your meal with a drink
Taking sips of water throughout your meal not only extends your meal time by interrupting the steady (read: rapid) pace of your eating, it also helps put tip #2 and #3 into practice. You can’t possibly drink water with a mouth full of food and utensils in hand.
You may be asking yourself, how can you eat mindfully if your eye is on the clock? Setting a timer may seem counter-intuitive, but it helps bring awareness to exactly how quickly you eat. It takes your stomach about 20 minutes to send the “I’m satisfied” signal to your brain, so aim to lengthen your meals to the 20-minute mark.
Eating mindfully is surely easier said than done. Start your mindful eating journey by bringing awareness to your eating behaviours and incorporating these tips to eat more slowly. Like any new skill, practice makes perfect. When it comes to developing this skill, it’ll simply take time.
By Katie Cohen Olivenstein MS RD
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Do you need to be more mindful of your pace at meals? What tip will you implement?
Want personalized advice? Meet with an MN dietitian to get started on your mindful eating journey.