Let’s get one thing clear early on, OK? Just because I’m a health coach doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes struggle to follow my own advice.
There’s one particular area that’s been a real issue for me… and that’s eating mindfully.
As someone who generally does several things at once, training myself not to grab The Times when I sit down to lunch or eat at my keyboard is deeply counter-intuitive. It seems perverse not to use the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Working in PR requires reading reams of newspapers every day of the week, so inhaling my lunch while at my desk is what I’ve been hardwired to do.
Actually, my eating while reading habit hasn’t developed just to be time-efficient with my work. It applies to reading for fun, too. I can trace it back to when I was a kid. My little brother and I would anxiously await the weekly delivery of our Whizzer and Chips and Dandy comics, which were strictly only to be read with a pack of salt and vinegar crisps in hand.
I was still at it three decades later – minus the comics. One day, while reading the Twilight saga, which I adored (yes, I admit it!), I supplemented my evening, family-size bag of crisps with a Cadbury’s Flake. And, lo, a new habit was born!
When my (very obliging) husband realised I was going through quite a number of Flakes, he started buying the multipacks. From then on, every single time I opened a Twilight book, I automatically ate one family bag of salt and vinegar crisps and a Flake… followed by a second Flake. Happily, the Twilight books were not exactly War and Peace so I sped through them, subsequently dropping my Flake habit and returning to the standard evening crisps.
Anyway, vampire love stories aside, the fact is that we’re so used to compressing time that we’ve downgraded eating to something to be squeezed in while we’re doing something else. In our rush-rush culture, sitting at the table to eat a meal seems like a wholly superfluous waste of time. As a result, many of us have got into the habit of consuming our food standing up, while driving, at our desk or in front of the telly.
But there’s a downside to this: when we don’t fully experience our meals, we don’t pay attention to whether we’re hungry or not – or full or not.
If, like me, you’d also like to break the habit of a lifetime, here are a few tips you might find helpful:
Set the table and sit at it
Standing or walking about is no way to eat. Clear some space at a table so you’re not eating amidst clutter, lay down some cutlery and sit comfortably.
Before you eat, take a few deep breaths to relax and ground yourself
This will also shift your nervous system to a resting state – called the parasympathetic nervous system – where your body can digest and extract the maximum nutrition from your meal.
Eat without any distractions
That means no TV, radio, iPhone, computer or magazines/books/newspapers.
Take your time
Yes, you do have time to eat. Slow down. As I said, relaxation plays a critical role in how our bodies digest our food. If you eat a meal in stressed mode, your body will likely store most of it, which is not helpful if you’re looking to lose weight. You might also find yourself with indigestion.
Chew chew chew
Remember that your stomach doesn’t have teeth! Chewing is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy digestive system. Chewing food thoroughly can help keep weight down and boost the immune system. We’re recommended to chew each bite at least 50 times. Personally, I have to come right out and say that I would find this unbearably boring. So here’s a more realistic aim: make sure there are no un-chewed pieces of food in your mouth before you swallow.
Check in with yourself
Take a pause for a few minutes and check in with your body to gauge how full you are. Don’t wait till you feel uncomfortably full and are undoing your top button!
“Hara hachi bu” is a 2,500-year old Confucian mantra that’s said before meals in Okinawa, Japan. Okinawa is one of the “Blue Zones” whose inhabitants routinely outlive people elsewhere in the world. The mantra reminds the Okinawans to stop eating when they’re 80 per cent full and it’s credited with helping them remain so healthy, active and trim well into old age.
Right then, I’m signing off now to sit down to eat away from this flipping screen.
Over to you now. How and where will you eat your lunch today?
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