By: Kirby Branciforte, RDN and corporate nutritionist for Wegmans Food Markets.
Mindful eating is the act of practicing presence and non-judgmental awareness while we eat. It can help reduce stress, improve your relationship with food, and decrease the likelihood of overeating. Although the benefits of mindful eating are supported by decades of research, the practice may be elusive for some. This is partially because some of its impact is aggregate, meaning that micro benefits enjoyed from regular practice all roll up into something quite powerful. But that doesn’t help individuals who might be skeptical and want to know more precisely how and why to do it.
While there are actual steps to practicing mindful eating (you can find our 4 steps here), there is one overarching aspect you can easily do the next time you eat – slow down. The impact will be noticeable and amazing things will happen:
You’ll probably eat less – It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal from your stomach that it’s full. That means you’ll have a better chance of stopping when you are full (and eating less in the process) because you’ve given your brain enough time to get the message.
You’ll help your digestion – Chewing slowly better breaks down your food, allowing more time for digestive enzymes in your mouth to do their job. It also means less strain on your gastrointestinal tract because you are giving it tiny, more manageable morsels to work on.
You’ll be more satisfied with less food – Slowing down can make for a more enjoyable eating experience. It allows time for olfactory senses (our internal smelling and tasting mechanism) to work, so aromas and flavors are more fully experienced. When you take this time, you will probably eat less and have more satisfaction having just enjoyed an actual sensory experience.
Take Action The easiest and most effective way to slow down while eating is to breathe – deep, purposeful, slow breaths. This type of breathing has its own benefits, among which is that it naturally slows you down.
Before you eat, take a deep breath (or two or three if you aren’t rushed). There are breathing techniques that some people use, such as inhaling through the nose, holding your breath, and exhaling through the mouth, but do what feels natural to you. Slow inhales and exhales will do the trick.
When you eat, chew slowly, put your fork down between bites, and then pause for another deep breath. Deep breaths aren’t practical after each bite of an entire meal, so try to take them at least once or twice. Adding deep breaths around the mid-point is ideal, as it’s also a good time to check in and consider if you might be approaching fullness.
After you eat, rest for a moment. Reflect on your eating experience while you enjoy a few more deep breaths. Slow, deep breaths during this time is a good practice while you consider whether you are truly hungry for second helpings.
Another bonus of this intentional deep breathing that you’ll notice – you will feel less stress. Deep breathing works wonders to relax body and mind. Slowing down and taking deep breaths is free, easy, and it works; why not give it a go?
Go forth and be mindful After you see the power of slowing down, maybe you’ll consider a deep dive into mindful eating to explore how non-judgmental awareness and presence while you eat can unlock the door to self-love, compassion, and understanding. It is a practice you can pick up or continue whenever you please, not just to get the tides turning in the New Year.
Kirby Branciforte, RDN, is a corporate nutritionist for Wegmans Food Markets.