Just. Slow. Down.
When you live a busy life where multitasking is considered an accomplishment, eating becomes something done generally in a hurry - maybe not even while sitting. The problem with that is when you eat fast you probably don't chew properly which means you're not getting your digestion off to a good start.
Yes, mindfulness is a bit of a buzzword but, when applied to a specific aspect of your life, it can provide measurable results. Neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt, author of Why Diets Make Us Fat, explains that mindful eating "allows people to enjoy a relaxed relationship with food – one that doesn’t require a constant struggle between willpower and temptation”. Many diet plans are really a bunch of rules about what you can or cannot eat without offering guidance on how to actually apply those rules, making it feel more like punishment than guidance. A mindfulness approach instead is shifts the focus away from rules and focuses instead on simply paying attention to how we feel in a way we didn’t before.
So how does one obtain mindfulness? Learning these simple habits can create a better relationship with food, improve digestion, increase nutrient absorption and even help with weight loss.
When it’s time to eat, stop everything else you’re doing and focus on your meal. Be sure to always allocate enough time to allow you to chew thoroughly and not overeat. Take the time to think about what you're eating and appreciate it, whether it's a beautiful salad bowl or a lowly protein bar, we should always consider ourselves fortunate to be having something to eat.
Put down that fork
We tend to take a bite of food and then hover the fork in front of our mouths while we’re still chewing, creating a subconscious sense of urgency to get what’s in our mouth down so we can take that next bite. Try putting your fork down and not picking it up again until after you’ve swallowed. If this is tough for you, use chopsticks instead of a fork. If you didn't grow up using them it will probably slow you down the right amount.
Just because it can make it down your throat doesn’t mean it’s properly chewed. Keep chewing until your food becomes almost liquefied and is effortless to swallow. As you get used to how this feels you'll be retraining yourself so the next time you try to swallow under-chewed food it will feel like a golf ball going down and you'll automatically make a correction.
Create a speed bump
Assess how you feel about halfway through your meal to determine if you might in fact already be full. You can do this by serving yourself half the usual amount, or split the food on your plate in half, and assess how you feel at that halfway point. Are you actually still hungry, or are you just right? This may even prevent food waste – and save you some money!
Your mouth does more than just talk and chew
Digestion starts in the mouth. When food enters your mouth little nodes send a signal to the brain to initiate the digestive process. This triggers of the salivary glands, the first of the digestive juices to begin breaking down foods, mainly proteins, to make the stomach’s job a little easier. It also begins to break out and identify specific sugars within the starchy foods and complex carbohydrates you're eating. This allows your body to take a quick assessment of how much carbohydrate you’re ingesting so your body can plan for when it’s had enough. So when you barely chew and then quickly swallow that bite of bagel your body misses an important cue to know when it’s had enough carbs. Follow up the bagel with a cupcake and wash it all down with a soft drink and you're in carb overload before your body even knows what hit it.
You can’t rush your stomach
Just because your stomach is getting full doesn’t mean your brain will tell you to stop eating. Instead, it waits for a hormonal signal that is generally released about 20 minutes after digestion is first initiated. When we eat too quickly, we fill our stomach up past the normal level that our body is equipped to handle before that full response kicks in. The result is more food in your stomach than you have digestive juices available to break down, resulting in under-digested food entering the intestines. Think of that the next time you plan to wolf your lunch down in the 15 minutes you have between meetings. If you can’t eat slower then at least eat less.
Balance is everything
What happens if all that poorly digested food finds its way to your intestine? This is how more serious troubles can start. An imbalance of bad bacteria in your gut can occur. These bacteria can cause sugar and carb cravings that lead to weight gain and they can release hormones that may lead to other health problems. At worst, this can cause inflammation leading to diverticulitis or even polyps that can turn cancerous.
You can see how mindful eating can improve your health in a number of ways. The next step is learning how to implement it into your every day life. The focus here is on eating but you can apply mindfulness techniques to all the areas of your life that need some fine-tuning. It could be quite the life upgrade.