Mindful Eating: Savoring Your Food Has Physical and Psychological Benefits
Harvard Health Letters
Harvard Health Letters
Distracted, hurried eating may add pounds and take away pleasure.
You're at your computer, facing a wall of e-mails. After composing a reply, you hit "send" and reach for the bulging tuna wrap on your desk. After a few bites, chewing while glancing at the screen, you set the wrap down, grab a handful of chips, and open the next message. Before you know it, you've finished lunch without even noticing it.
A small yet growing body of research suggests that a slower, more thoughtful way of eating could help with weight problems and steer some people away from processed food to more healthful choices.
This alternative approach has been dubbed "mindful eating." It's based on the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, which involves being fully aware of what's happening within and around you at the moment. Mindfulness techniques have also been proposed as a way to relieve stress and alleviate problems like high blood pressure and chronic gastrointestinal difficulties.
Applied to eating, mindfulness includes noticing the colors, smells, flavors, and textures of your food; chewing slowly; getting rid of distractions like TV or reading; and learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food. Some elements of mindful eating seem to hearken back to the ideas of
THE MIND-GUT CONNECTION
Digestion involves a complex series of hormonal signals between the gut and the nervous system, and it seems to take about 20 minutes for the brain to register satiety (fullness). If you gobble down food too quickly, satiety may not occur until after you've gone overboard. There's also reason to believe that eating while we're distracted by activities like driving or working at a keyboard may slow down or stop digestion in a manner similar to how the "fight or flight" response occurs. And if we're not digesting well, we may be missing out on the full nutritive value of our food.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Experts suggest starting gradually with mindful eating, eating one meal a day or week in a slower, more attentive manner. Here are some tips (and tricks) to help you get started:
1. Set your kitchen timer to 20 minutes, and take that time to eat a normal-sized meal.
2. Try eating with your non-dominant hand; if you're a righty, hold your fork in your left hand when lifting food to your mouth.
3. Use chopsticks if you don't normally use them.
4. Eat silently for five minutes, thinking about what it took to produce that meal, from the sun's rays to the farmer to the grocer to the cook.
5. Take small bites and chew well.
6. Before opening the fridge or cabinet, take a breath and ask yourself, "Am I really hungry?" Then do something else, like reading or going for a walk.
A TREATMENT FOR BINGERS
Several studies have shown that mindful eating strategies might help treat eating disorders and possibly help with weight loss. Psychologist
The randomized controlled study included 150 binge eaters and compared a mindfulness-based therapy to a standard psychoeducational treatment and a control group. Both active treatments produced declines in binging and depression, but the mindfulness-based therapy seemed to help people enjoy their food more and have less sense of struggle about controlling their eating. Those who meditated more (both at mealtimes and throughout the day) got more out of the program.
Kristeller and others say mindfulness helps people recognize the difference between emotional and physical hunger and satiety and introduces a "moment of choice" between the urge and eating.
The NIH is funding additional research by Kristeller and
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