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It’s easy to get distracted and rush through life. Between constant smartphone notifications, work emails, family obligations, and endless social media scrolling, it’s no wonder the world is constantly operating in a state of haste. Unfortunately, our eating habits tend to reflect this. With plenty of fast food options and the ability to order anything you want with a click, our meals are just as rushed as the rest of our lives, which ultimately causes distress to our bodies.
To start your own mindful eating practice, Thistle has compiled six tips for eating more mindfully from a variety of experts and information sources. Mindful eating is a practice that helps minimize the constant stream of responsibilities we take on every day while we eat. Instead of shoveling food into your mouth at your desk, mindful eating challenges you to slow down, pause, and focus on the food in front of you. This practice can benefit digestion, lead to smarter food choices, and help identify your cues for satiety (i.e. being full).
It is important to note that mindful eating does not replace traditional treatments for conditions such as eating disorders. It is also not considered a weight loss strategy on its own, but can help supplement a weight loss program if someone wants to change their eating habits and lose weight long term.
Start with a small portion
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Portion control can feel difficult and restrictive, especially when your “eyes are bigger than your stomach.” Luckily, many associations offer methods consumers can follow that make portion control easier.
Precision Nutrition has a simple guide that teaches you how to properly dose your food by measuring with your hand. The American Diabetes Association teaches the Diabetes Plate Method where consumers fill half their plate with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter with protein foods, and a quarter with carbohydrate foods. They also suggest using smaller plates (like 9-inch lunch plates) instead of larger dinner plates for easy portion control. Although it may seem like a small amount at first, the British Heart Foundation suggests waiting 20 minutes after consuming your plate before refilling it.
Eat slowly, chew well
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The 20-minute mark isn’t just a random number — it actually takes your brain 20 minutes to send signals of fullness from a meal. Harvard Health suggests setting a timer for 20 minutes while you eat, to give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the meal.
Experts suggest chewing each bite 30 times to really savor it (studies show that chewing thoroughly aids digestion) and putting your fork down between bites to lengthen your meal time. If you’re still hungry after 20 minutes, you can go for a few seconds.
Savor your food and think about its importance
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An easy way to eliminate distractions and focus on your meal is to think specifically about food. Research from the American Diabetes Association suggests thinking about a series of questions: What did it take to bring you this food? Who grew this food? Who cooked it? What tastes and sensations do I have?
As the meal progresses, ask yourself questions to gauge your satiety while eating: Have I had enough? Am I still hungry or am I still eating because it’s good? You can always save your food for later. It’s also important to eat before you get too hungry to avoid overeating and making impulsive choices.
Take the time to assess your level of hunger before eating
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Hunger signals don’t just come from a rumbling stomach, but can actually present themselves in different ways. Low energy levels, headaches, tremors, nausea, and even trouble concentrating can all be signs of hunger.
Berkeley University Health Services created a hunger-satiety scale that allows eaters to rate their level of hunger from 1 (hungry, feeling very weak) to 10 (extremely stuffed, nauseous). Use this scale to gauge how hungry you are before consuming a meal and when to stop so you are not uncomfortably full. This allows you to get a better sense of your satiety signals and reinforce this mindful eating practice over time.
Keep a calorie budget in mind to avoid overeating
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For those who think in numbers, having a set calorie budget can help you practice more mindful eating every day. Although counting calories won’t work for everyone (especially those looking to heal their relationship with food and restrictive diets), it can help those who want to learn more about the foods they eat. However, it’s important to note that 2017 research from Perspectives on Psychological Science shows that cutting calories doesn’t always equate to long-term weight loss.
Harvard Health emphasized in 2020 that food quality matters, focusing on getting enough satiating foods high in protein, healthy fats, and fiber versus ultra-processed foods filled with empty calories.
Do not multitask during meals
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It’s hard to gauge your satiety signals when you’re distracted by watching TV, scrolling through your phone, or working on your computer. While eating during labor may seem effective, Harvard Health experts say it prevents you from understanding how full you are, causing you to overeat and feel uncomfortably full later. It can cause you to feel sluggish after a meal instead of energized, and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found in 2020 that it doesn’t give you the ability to actually taste and enjoy food. in front of you.
A simple trick is to sit at a table or designated place to eat to give yourself the space to practice mindful eating, according to Dr. Carolyn Dunn, dietitian and weight loss expert.
This story originally appeared on Thistle and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.