Mindful Eating: HOW do You Eat?

31 Mar

Mindful Eating: HOW do You Eat?

by Tim Skwiat, MEd, CSCS, Pn1

“Hara Hachi Bu” – Confucius

When it comes to eating for fat loss and improving overall health, everyone wants to know “what” and “how much” to eat. These are important questions, no doubt, as certain foods will fuel your goals better than others. What’s more, portion control is a key player in regulating energy balance, and we all know that we have to eat less to lose more.

But, let’s be honest, calorie counting can be annoying and time consuming, and measuring and weighing foods can be even worse. In the short-term, these can be very useful tools to give you a better idea of exactly what you’re putting in your body, but these are unsustainable actions, which means they won’t last.

Very infrequently, however, do we talk about “how” we eat. Do you eat quickly like you have two brothers hawking over your plate? Do you eat while watching TV or checking your e-mail? Do you count the number of times you chew before you swallow? Do you think about where your food originated?

New research indicates that how we eat can actually aid, or impede, our fat loss efforts. Researchers suggest that “eating attentively” may be latest, most valuable tool in winning the battle of the bulge.

In a brand new research article that appeared in the April 2013 issue of the prestigious American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, scientists from the University of Birmingham (United Kingdom) reviewed 24 different studies that examined the effect that manipulating memory, distraction, awareness, or attention has on food intake.

The scientists found that eating when distracted not only causes you to eat more at that meal or snack, but, get this, causes you to eat an even greater amount later on in subsequent meals.  On the other hand, the researchers found that being more attentive to meals and using “food memories” (i.e., using visual reminders of meals, keeping food wrappers) led to decreased food intake both immediately and at later meals.

This research provides clear evidence that the practice of “mindful eating” is increasingly important when trying to lose stubborn fat. As a matter of fact, the authors of the study concluded:

“Evidence indicates that attentive eating is likely to influence food intake, and incorporation of attentive-eating principles into interventions provides a novel approach to aid weight loss and maintenance without the need for conscious calorie counting.”

Here are some helpful tips to increase your attentiveness while eating and put mindful eating practices to use right away:

  • Remove Distractions. As the researchers suggested, distractions cause you to eat more. Turn off the TV, shut down the computer, and set your phone in another room. As a matter of fact, sit at the table and take the time to enjoy your meal.
  • Use Smaller Plates. Appearance can be deceiving. A smaller plate that’s full is much more satisfying than a large plate that is half empty because it gives the impression that there is a more abundant amount of food.
  • Take Your Time. Cara Stewart, Registered Dietician and member of the Penn Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery team, says that it takes approximately 20 minutes for your brain and stomach to register fullness. I don’t know about you, but I can put a lot of food down in 20 minutes. Taking your time allows you to better gauge your level of fullness and satiety.
  • “Hara Hachi Bu.” This ancient Confucian adage literally means “Eat until you are 8 parts (out of 10) full” or “belly 80% full.” Practice this wise teaching when you eat by stopping your meal when you are almost full — not stuffed.
  • Chew Thoroughly. I’ve seen people literally swallow pieces of meat whole, like they’re afraid someone’s going to take the food right out of their mouth. Take your time with each bite and try to recognize different tastes and textures. A good guide is to chew each bite 20 times. The added benefit of this is that digestion starts in the mouth, so you can also avoid some GI distress by chewing more thoroughly.
  • Take Smaller Bites. Cut your food into smaller pieces, which will help increase the duration of the meal. You could even use baby utensils to help decrease the size of each bite. This will also help you feel like you’ve eaten more.
  • Put Your Fork Down. Remember, your fork is not a shovel. You can set it down between bites, which will help you focus on the taste, look, smell, and feel of your meal and help you to slow down your pace.
  • Have a Conversation. Gasp! Yep, I mean actually talk to someone while you’re eating. You’re already sitting at the table, you might as well ask your partner and children how their days were. If you have any manners, you won’t talk and chew at the same time, so this will slow down your eating, as well as enhance the memory of the meal.
  • Eat with Your Non-Dominant Hand. Michael Jordan once said that one of the reasons he is the greatest basketball player of all time is because everything that he did with his right hand he also did with his left — from dribbling a basketball to brushing his teeth. Not only will doing this enhance your dexterity, the awkwardness of this task will force you to slow down your eating and take smaller bites.

Put these mindful eating habits to use right away and watch your waistline — and your calorie counting frustrations — disappear!


Robinson E, et al. Eating attentively: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Apr;97(4):728-42.


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