5 Tips On How To Practice Mindful Eating
And Why It Matters
Melissa Joulwan is the author of the best-selling Well Fed cookbook series and the blog www.MelJoulwan.com, where she writes about her triumphs and failures in the gym, in the kitchen, and in life. After a lifetime of yo-yo dieting and food as the enemy, Melissa found the paleo diet in 2009 and has been happily following it ever since. That year, she also underwent a thyroidectomy. In the aftermath of the surgery and recovery, she became particularly interested in how diet affects hormones, body composition, mood, and motivation. These days, Melissa’s workouts are just as likely to include yoga and meditation as lifting heavy things and sprinting to stay ahead of the stopwatch.
I hate to admit it, but I’ve done it, and I bet you have, too. Mindless eating. That out-of-body experience in which a slice of pizza at a kid’s birthday party or a stale doughnut left in the office break room mysteriously disappears into our mouths before we’ve even realized it. There are plenty of distractions to take our attention away from our food: the bluescreen appeal of a tablet or TV, breakfast in the car on the way to work, half a jar of nuts while we do the laundry, cook dinner, and fret about tomorrow’s to-do items.
We accidentally gorge our way through snacks or entire meals without really tasting or enjoying what we’re eating. This can lead to more calories than we need, to consuming foods that damage our health, and to poor digestion that disrupts our energy, our moods, and our sleep.
Food tastes so much better—and is more nurturing physically and emotionally—when we slow down, savor our food, and mindfully taste each bite. Here are five tips to help all of us do that:
1. Eat at the table.
Do I always sit at my dining table when I eat? No. Sometimes I eat standing at my counter because I don’t want to sit. And on workout days, I eat my pre- and post-workout snacks in the car or while rambling on the hiking trail behind the gym. But the majority of my meals are served on a plate while I sit at the table in our kitchen. And even when I’m eating while moving, I try to pause before I take that first bite, and I chew slowly and deliberately. You don’t need a formal dining room or fine china, just a designated spot that defines “meal time.” The act of slowing down to eat in a space devoted to eating puts you in the mindset to focus on your food. It sends a message to your brain that says, “I’m eating now,” so your senses and digestion can begin the act of nourishing you.
2. Put down your fork and chew well.
My parents were sticklers for good table manners when I was kid. We always ate dinner together at our kitchen table—at 5:00 p.m.—and I was instructed repeatedly to put my fork down between bites. There was absolutely, positively no shoveling allowed at the table. That annoying rule was actually excellent advice, so I’m going to pass it along to you. Place your fork on the rim of your plate between bites to ensure that you don’t gobble your food too quickly. And here’s another tip for you: Chew each bite of food a lot, somewhere between 30 and 50 times. Research shows that digestion and satiation improve when food is well chewed before being swallowed.
3. Use a plate, bowl, and utensils.
I’ve already admitted I sometimes eat standing up, so I might as well confess that when I eat alone, I occasionally eat straight from the cooking pan. Why wash extra dishes? I don’t recommend you engage in this behavior regularly (although, it can be relaxing and indulgent once in a while). You’ll feel more satisfied—and be more successful in achieving your health-related goals—if you place appropriate servings of protein and vegetables on a smallish, individual serving plate. Normal-sized portions served on smaller plates trick your brain into thinking you’re eating more, leading you to feel more satisfied when you’re finished.
4. Banish screens at meal time.
Fact: We eat more when we’re distracted. It’s pretty important to shut down the television, computer, phone, and other gadgets while you eat. The entertainment and diversion of screens distract our attention from what we’re eating—which can leave us feeling unsatisfied at the end of the meal. The brain doesn’t register the satiety that should be attached to the food because of the interference of that cute cat video or stressful work email. Ban screens from the table and focus on the food and your dining companions. Who knows what kind of interesting conversations will result from putting away the gadgets!
5. Wait 20 minutes.
It takes about 20 minutes for the “I’m full” message to reach our brains. To give your head time to catch up with your stomach, eat slowly and pause until at least the 20-minute mark before hitting the stove for seconds. If you still feel unsatisfied after the waiting period, add another small serving of protein and vegetables to your plate and enjoy every bite.
I hope these tips help you slow down and savor your food. The motto in our house is “cook quickly, eat slowly.” And my new cookbook Well Fed Weeknights: Complete Paleo Meals in 45 Minutes Or Less can help you do that! Bursting with vibrant flavors and foolproof recipes, Well Fed Weeknights puts 128 complete—and completely-delicious—paleo meals on your table in 45 minutes or less (and 100 of them are ready in just 30 minutes!). Inspired by takeout classics, food trucks, and cuisines from around the world, all of the recipes are free of grains, dairy, legumes, and soy. You won’t mind skipping the drive-through or delivery when you can quickly cook meals like Bacon-Jalapeño Burger Balls, Thai Yummy Salad, Dirty Rice, Fried Chicken Meatballs, Pizza Noodles, Sticky Orange Sunflower Chicken, Italian Hoagie Salad, Street Fries, and more.
Pre-order your copy of Well Fed Weeknights now for awesome free bonuses, including a 1-month Epic Well Fed Dinner Plan that includes menus, shopping lists, and step-by-step cooking instructions for a whole month of crazy-delicious dinners (with leftovers for breakfast and lunch). And be sure to help yourself to the free 70-page Well Fed Weeknights sampler that includes 18 recipes from the cookbook so you can start cooking right away.
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