The idea of eating mindfully sounds like a luxury: you savour each morsel of food, breathing in its aroma, admiring its colour and shape. As soon as you take a bite, you admire its taste, temperature and texture. Is it smooth or crunchy? Salty or sweet? Spicy or bland? You notice how the flavor changes as you chew your food slowly and thoroughly, setting down your fork in between bites and breathing deeply as you check in with your body to ask if it wants another. When you’re finished, you are perfectly satiated—no longer hungry, but not full and definitely not stuffed. Eating is pleasure, and you have nourished your body in compete harmony with the universe.
Sounds fabulous, right? But it also sounds like a lot of work. It’s hard to make each bite of food an extraordinary experience, especially when real life gets in the way. There are emails to be sent, bills to be paid, kids to be shuttled. Sometimes a meal has just gotta be a meal.
Yet research shows that so-called mindful eating might be helpful when working to lose weight. It helps you eat more slowly which may lead to consuming consume fewer calories, as you give your body time to signal your brain that you’ve had enough. It also helps you gain more satisfaction from your food. One recent study found that our perception or “memory” of what we eat determines how full we feel afterward, no matter how much we’ve actually consumed. How many of us have eaten in front of the computer or while watching TV, only to look up and ask, “I’m finished already?”.
The challenge is to fit mindful eating into our daily lives. Experts say it’s not that hard. “We often kid ourselves about how busy we are,” explains Brian Wansink, PhD, Professor of Consumer Behavior at Cornell University and author of the forthcoming Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life. “It takes just 15 minutes to really enjoy a meal.”
Whether you’ve got fifteen minutes or five, experts agree you can eat mindfully wherever you are. You’ll starve if you wait until the perfect time and place to get into a mindful state of mind. “You can do it anywhere,” says Lilian Cheung, RD, a nutritionist at the Harvard School of Public Health and co-author of Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.
Just use these simple strategies:
1. Focus on your food.
“The key is to focus on the food itself and not get carried away by thoughts or what’s happening around you.” She suggests closing your eyes and taking one or two deep breaths to switch gears. You can do this on a park bench, at a meeting – even while in the (parked) car during a busy errand day. “Try to pull into a parking lot, where you’ll have fewer distractions,” suggests Wansink. “You’ll want to enjoy your meal as much as possible. That’s not going to happen at a stop light.”
2. Make the most of the moments you do have.
“Be aware of how much time you have to eat,” urges Cheung. “If you only have 10 minutes, consider splitting your lunch into two parts. Truly savour your food, then attend your next meeting and eat the rest later.” Or in cases when that’s impossible, at least recognize that you’re not eating mindfully. “If you can’t avoid eating while driving, at least be aware that you are eating in a rush,” she says. That’s a valuable lesson, too. Over time, you’ll be able to distinguish between the two states. As you learn how much better eating mindfully feels, you’ll be more inspired to make it a priority.
3. Step away from your desk.
We all know how much the French enjoy life with their supposed two-hour lunches outside the office. But sometimes you just can’t get away. Stop and step out of the cube, even if you’re just walking down the hall to the break room, advises Wansink. “People like others to think they’re so swamped they can’t possibly break away,” he says. “But you’re going to get much more of a lift eating with another person than sitting at your desk surfing the Internet or looking at someone’s Facebook post of cute cats.”
4. Keep mealtimes relaxed and fun.
You do the things to set up the right physical environment to support your weight-loss goals: not keeping junk in the house, walking past the doughnuts in the conference room, avoiding buffets. But did you know that your emotional environment matters, too? Research shows that people eat faster when they’re stressed or upset. So don’t start heated arguments when you sit down to eat. Save sensitive discussion topics for after dinner, even if it means changing the subject suddenly – do it with a smile and your dinner companions will likely follow suit. Bon appetit!