Chew slowly. Tune into the texture, the smell, and complexity of flavors. Keep chewing. Swallow. Take a sip of water. And, for a few moments, resist the urge to take another bite. Continue this way throughout the course of a meal, and you’ll experience the pleasures and frustrations of mindful eating.
The practice has ancient Buddhist roots. It is, in fact, a form of secular meditation, asking the consumer to experience food more intensely, paying close attention to the sensation and purpose of each bite. Mindful eating is not a diet–and it doesn’t ask you to eat less–but the approach is gaining traction as successful weight loss mechanism. In fact, recent studies have shown that mindful eaters respond less to emotional stress, consume significantly fewer calories and have an easier time maintaining a healthy BMI compared to those who are unaware.
And you can start eating with awareness today. Here are 8 simple tips—straight from the experts and the latest in Eat This, Not That!‘s scientific research—that will help you to eat more mindfully and start losing weight today:
1. Minimize Distractions
“We eat for many reasons but the main prompt for mindful eating is physical hunger. It’s hard to be present if you’re eating at your desk, cyber-loafing, or watching television. When your mind is focusing on something besides your food, you don’t realize things like: ‘Was the food actually good?’ and ‘Am I getting full?’ This often leads to ‘do-over’ eating which isn’t so mindful. Eat with purpose and presence! Minimize distractions as often as possible.” — Leslie P. Schilling, MA, RDN, CSSD, LDN, Schilling Nutrition Therapy, LLC & Creator of www.YourSupperSolution.com
2. Be Sense-ible
The warm smell of cinnamon, the charred stripes on a grilled chicken breast, the crunch of an apple … experts say paying attention to the sensory details of food is a simple way to start eating mindfully—and start dropping pounds. In fact, a study in the journal Flavour found participants who took time to appreciate the aroma of a meal ate significantly less of a dish that smelled strongly than a mildly scented variety. A second study found that people served a monochromatic plate of food—like fettuccine Alfredo on a white plate–ate 22 percent more than those served a more visually-appealing plate that provided more color and contrast. Texture also comes into play. Researchers in Florida found people tend to eat more of soft, smooth foods–which tend to be higher in fat–than of hard, crisp ones. In one study, participants consumed more soft brownie bits than hard brownie bits, until they were asked to focus on calorie content. Just being mindful of how things like aroma, mouthfeel and food presentation can influence how much we eat can help increase the satisfaction we get from a meal and also prevent overeating.
3. Set the Table for Pleasure
“We are born pleasure-seekers. It’s not just food calories that fill us up, but the pleasure we derive from eating them. Taking time to set the mood can increase your meal satisfaction, which means you’re less likely to overeat. In fact, pleasure helps the body relax, which aids digestion. This means you’ll metabolize an indulgent meal faster and smaller portion sizes will satisfy you. So even when eating alone, take time to set the mood with rituals that boost pleasure–Vitamin P as we call it on The Naughty Diet. Use your fine china, pour yourself a glass of wine, light a candle and put on some Barry White, You Sexy Thing!” — Melissa Milne, Author of The Naughty Diet (2015)
4. Pace Your Plate
Stopping at a red light is more challenging when you’re flying at 100 miles per hour than when cruising at a slower speed. Knowing when to put down your fork is similar. Experts say gauging your body’s subtle “I’m full” cues is easier when you take smaller bites at a slower pace. In fact, one study published in the journal PLOS One found that people who focused on taking “small bites” of food consumed about 30 percent less soup for their meal than those who didn’t make the conscious decision. The mindful soup slurpers also more accurately estimated how many calories they had consumed. And a second study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found simply slowing down had similar results. People who focused on doubling the number of times they chewed before swallowing ate 15 perfect less food and 112 fewer calories over the course of a meal. So pump the brakes, and slow down to slim down.
5. Ask Yourself
“Mindful eating can help you break free from old automatic, habitual patterns of reacting to environmental and emotional triggers. So whenever you feel like eating, pause to ask, ‘Am I hungry?’ and choose how you’ll respond. Then, eat mindfully with intention and attention: Eat with the intention of feeling better when you’re finished eating than you did when you started, and eat with your full attention on the food and your body for optimal enjoyment and satisfaction.” — Michelle May, M.D., Founder of Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs
6. Om Before You Nom
Of all the gym-goers, yogis tend to be the most mindful eaters, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. In a survey of more than 300 Seattle residents, researchers found that people who ate more mindfully weighed less than those who ate mindlessly (those who reported eating when not hungry or in response to anxiety or depression). The researchers also found a strong association between yoga practice and mindful eating but not between other types of physical activity, like walking or running. According to the authors, yoga, as it teaches how to maintain calm in uncomfortable or challenging situations, can increase mindfulness in eating and lead to less weight gain over time—independent of the physical aspect of the exercise. So consider adding a few minutes of downward dog to your daily routine, and make your approach to mindful eating a holistic one. (If you’re looking for a perfect way to end your yoga session, reach for a cup of green tea. It’s the best tea for boosting your weight loss success.)
7. Make it a Family Affair
“There are a number of ‘external’ factors—such as the people with whom you are enjoying a meal—that play a critical role in your ability to eat mindfully. Think of ways to optimize your environment that will help you achieve this goal. For example, make others who are eating with you aware of your goal to eat mindfully. Invite them to try it, too. You may find that experiencing a meal together will help you both savor what you are eating and pay closer attention to how much you are eating, so you don’t overindulge.” — Dan Childs, Managing Editor of the ABC News Medical Unit, Author of Thinfluence
8. Remove the Traps
Our homes are filled with hidden eating traps, and simply being aware of something as simple as the size of a bowl can influence how much you eat, according to Brian Wansink, Director of Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab. In one of Wansink’s “mindless eating” studies, moviegoers ate 45 percent more fresh popcorn from extra-large containers than large ones. A second study showed people automatically pour more liquid in short, wide glasses than in tall, skinny ones of the same volume. Even a kid’s cereal bowl can be a hidden trap for mindless overeating. A study in the Journal of Pediatrics found children who were given a 16-ounce bowl served themselves twice as much cereal than children given an 8-ounce bowl. Bottom line: It’s easier to change your environment than to change your mind. Employing simple strategies like eating off salad plates instead of large dinner plates are more likely to succeed than willpower alone.