At least three recent studies have suggested that mindful eating can improve weight-loss efforts and combat obesity. Mindful eating may be particularly important in longer term weight maintenance (in other words, when the person has lost the weight and wants to keep it off).
Nutritionist Carolyn Dunn and colleagues from North Carolina State University recently carried out a review of the research papers on mindful eating and weight loss; the results of which were published in Current Obesity Reports. They reported weight loss with all the studies involving mindful eating. In addition, four out of five of the studies over a follow-up period showed impressive continued weight loss. The review concluded, “Increased mindful eating has been shown to help participants gain awareness of their bodies, be more in tune to hunger and satiety, recognize external cues to eat, gain self compassion, decrease food cravings, decrease problematic eating, and decrease reward-driven eating.”
In relation to eating speed – when looked at independently – the evidence suggests a dramatic reduction in the rates of overweight and obesity in those who eat more slowly. In BMJ Open, a research team examined the habits of 59,000 mostly obese subjects with Type 2 diabetes.
They looked at eating speed over the six-year period of the study. Interestingly, those who changed from being fast eaters to becoming slow eaters had a 42 per cent lower rate of obesity than those who continued to eat quickly. Meanwhile, those who moved from fast to normal had a 29 per cent lower rate. Hence the researchers concluded, “The control of eating speed may therefore be a possible means of regulating body fat and preventing obesity.”
Practice Mindful Eating to Lose Weight
How to Do It
The first step is to really know the difference between mindless eating and mindful eating. Check out the hallmarks of each below:
- Eating past full and ignoring your body’s cues that you’ve had enough.
- Eating just because you feel emotional (eg. sad, lonely, bored etc…).
- Choosing particular foods because you feel them emotionally
comforting (like crisps or chocolate).
- Eating and multi-tasking at the same time (or eating while standing up or
‘on the go’).
- ‘hoovering’ up food, or almost forgetting eating it.
- Listening to your body and stopping when full.
- Taking your body’s natural cues to eat (ie. grumbling stomach or
noticing your blood sugar has dropped).
- Choosing foods that will nourish your body.
- Noticing the flavour, texture and smell of your food – being fully
Some experts suggest starting gradually with mindful eating, perhaps just choosing one meal each day that you eat in a slower, more attentive way. Here are some more tips to help you get started.
- Set your phone timer to 20 minutes, and strive to take that time to eat a normal-sized meal. Put down your knife and fork while chewing.
- Take small bites and try to ‘double your chews’ – in other words, if you usually chew your food approximately ten times before swallowing, now move to twenty times.
- Try swopping around your knife and fork; it’s almost like writing with the wrong hand. Although somewhat frustrating, it’s a great way to stop the brain doing something ‘automatically’ and to get you to slow right down.
- Or use chopsticks – get them from your local Thai or Chinese restaurant (many have wooden versions available).
- Eat silently for five minutes, contemplating everything on your plate and how it was grown or where it originated from.
- Notice the textures, sounds and smells around you as you eat. Notice how everything looks on your plate and appreciate the colours you see.
- Notice yourself chewing and how you breathe as you eat.
- When you’re finished eating, notice how full you feel and notice any tastes or textures still in your mouth.
Remember, they say it takes 21 days to form a habit so keep at it and it will begin to come more naturally. At our clinics, we have seen hundreds of ‘speed eaters’ manage to slow down their eating and to change the habit for good, even after a lifetime of bad habits. Ultimately, you will begin to appreciate and respect your food more with this approach, in addition to the weight loss benefit.