So many of us resolve to improve our diets this time of year. And we’re probably already finding out that it’s really hard. The great anthropologist Margaret Mead once said that it’s harder to change our diet than it is to change our religion.
One reason it’s so hard is because we spend so much time and energy trying to change what we eat, while giving little attention to how we eat. If we can learn to eat mindfully, reaching our goals–losing fat, improving our health–becomes so much easier. And, just as importantly, we begin to treasure the marvelous gift of food so much more.
Eating mindfully simply means that we think about what we’re consuming. In our hyper-frantic world, it’s so easy for eating to become like breathing–a function we perform without any thought at all. It shouldn’t be. Every bite of food should be cherished and savored. That’s especially true when we consider the fact that 795 million people around the world–about 1 in 10–don’t have enough to eat.
Paying attention to our food may help us eat less, feel more satisfied with our meal and even help prevent and control Type 2 diabetes. If you look around the internet, you’ll find many strategies designed to help you eat more mindfully. But I’ve boiled it down into 5 ways we can incorporate this simple practice into our busy lives. Don’t worry; you don’t have to give up eating in front of the tv, and you won’t be asked to chant while you eat, join a commune or dine with chopsticks only. These five tips are doable by everyone.
However, the fact that these strategies are simple doesn’t make them easy. To this day, I still struggle with some of them. It takes a measure of discipline to practice mindful eating. But the benefits are plentiful. So here goes.
1. Never eat out of a bag, box or carton
I’m as guilty of feedbag eating as anyone. We love to grab a bag of chips or a pint of ice cream and plop ourselves in front of the tv. But when we do, we completely forget that we’re eating. We’re just mindlessly soothing ourselves with food. I’m not saying that we can’t eat in front of the tv. That’s going too far. But when we do, take the food out of the bag or carton, put a few scoops onto a plate or into a bowl, and enjoy every bite.
2. Reduce the size of your plate.
We tend to eat everything in front of us. And when our plate is big, we tend to fill it, even if we really don’t need that much food. But the smaller the plate, the less we eat and the more we enjoy it. Smaller plates tend to make it seem like we’re eating more food, and vice versa. It’s due to something called the Delboeuf Illusion. So, basically, we can fool ourselves into eating less food! And you don’t have to discard your expensive, large dinnerware. Just eat your informal meals on inexpensive 8″ diameter paper plates, instead of the normal 12″ diameter ones. You’ll find you’re just as satisfied with less.
3. Serve smaller portions.
I’m not saying you should try to starve yourself. Just serve yourself the smallest amount of food you can reasonably expect to consume on your new small plate. Then sit down and enjoy it. If, after 15-20 minutes, you find that you’re still hungry, go back and get more. It usually takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain you’re full.
4. Eat slowly.
This is probably the biggest key to mindful eating. And it’s the most difficult practice to master. Yesterday, while watching the AFC Championships, I scarfed down 6 pieces of pizza faster than Tom Brady could find a receiver. Many times, we eat quickly because the food is so darned good. Subconsciously, we’re trying to eat it all up before our brain tells us we’re full. Other times, it’s just because our lives have become so rushed that a meal is just another obstacle in our day, to be conquered as quickly as possible. Whatever the reason, slowing down and enjoying our meal is much, much harder than it should be. Here are a few ways to do it. Some are lifted from Summer Tomato, a great guide to healthful living.
- Put your fork down after every bite. This will force you to take your time and taste your meal.
- Try to identify every ingredient in your food.
- Chew slowly.
5. Drink a glass of water before every meal.
First of all, we all need to drink more water. Also, drinking water before we eat makes us feel more full. And, since the water will quench our thirst, we’ll be less likely to drink that entire bottle of wine with dinner.
Don’t think that incorporating these tips for mindful eating will be easy. You’ll have relapses. Don’t beat yourself up. Just try to incorporate as many as you can every day. You’ll soon see results, but, even better, you’ll enjoy all that delicious food you’re finding on these pages even more.