Hara Hachi Bu – have you heard of this saying before? It is lived out among Okinawans in Japan, and it basically means to stop eating when you feel 80% full. It is worth noting that Okinawa is one of the world’s blue zone regions (i.e. a place of exceptional health, on average, among its people). For us to feel satisfied with stopping at 80% requires a number of considerations and intentionality, actually. To do so, we need to eat mindfully – and that alone can be a key to not only overeating, but also in more enjoyment with our food.
But what is mindful eating? Why bother considering it? Mindfulness, in general, is practicing conscious awareness. This requires being present in the moment, focused, and thoughtful of “what am I actually feeling? What is actually happening right now? Why am I doing what I am doing? Etc?” Here is the thing – many of us (including myself) have a LOT of work to do in eating mindfully. When we are mindful of our eating habits, we gain more control and more pleasure in what we eat. Who doesn’t want that?
Are you in need of mindful eating?
Here are some questions to ask yourself. If you answer yes to any of these, you can benefit from mindful eating:
- Do I multi-task when I eat? Examples of multitasking while eating include:
- Standing at the counter
- Scrolling through social media
- Watching TV
- Taking bites between tasks
- Eating while moving/driving
- Do I rush when I eat?
- Am I mentally distracted when I eat, and mostly not even thinking about my eating at all?
- Do I find myself surprised my bag of snacks is emptier than expected?
- Do I struggle to find that sweet spot between feeling satisfied vs feeling stuffed?
Again, if you answered yes to any one of these and it happens often, then mindful eating can be a rewarding and fascinating skill to practice!
The cost of mindless eating, the gain of mindful eating
Here is the thing, when we mindlessly eat, we tend to:
- Eat too much, which puts on unexpected weight, and leaves us feeling sluggish after meals (or, you know what? You might find yourself eating too little).
- Perceive less flavor in our food – literally get less pleasure from it.
- Increase chance of digestive issues and bloating.
- Not fulfill our brain’s cravings as well, so we want to eat more (especially with snacks).
- Increase our stress levels.
But when we mindfully eat, we tend to:
- Eat just the right amount and feel neither hungry or sluggish.
- Notice more flavor in our food – and get more pleasure from it.
- Produce more saliva, stomach acid, and digestive enzymes to better break down food, and get more nutrition.
- Be satisfied more easily when we snack.
- Decrease our stress levels.
What ways can we practice mindful eating?
- Count how many times you chew before each swallow. Is it at least 20? Try bumping it up to 30. Can you do more? You will find it harder than you think! That will ensure you are better digesting your food while, at the same time, slowing down.
- Put your utensils/hands down after each bite. This minimizes the chances of distraction, and helps you be present with yourself and the people you may be eating with.
- Shift your mindset to one of a taste-tester. When you eat something, think about the flavor, the texture, how this food makes you feel. You might begin to appreciate and notice more from your food, and enjoy it more!
- If you are feeling a craving for a snack and you are trying not to give into cravings, try following your craving. However, instead of just grabbing that bag of chips and eating it on the counter (for example), measure out a specific amount, take it to the table, sit down, and eat it with no distractions. You probably will enjoy your snack more, and eat less to fulfill that craving. It is easier to eat ten cookies without noticing when watching TV, but try doing that when you are sitting down and just doing that. You probably will not want to eat all ten.
- Give yourself enough time. Do you find you rush your lunch hour, thinking “Oh I only need 10 minutes to eat.”? Give yourself at least 20 or more minutes to eat a full meal. That is about how long it takes for the gut to tell the brain, “Hey I am full and satisfied.” It also tells your body it can “rest and digest,” which aids in your body de-stressing.
I encourage you to look around and keep your eyes open to the concept of mindful eating. There are many wonderful articles and books out there that explain this further. One such book I highly recommend is “Turning off the Tap” by Sara Best. In the meantime, try picking one of the suggestions in the list above, practice it consistently for one week, and see what you notice. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
To you health and wellbeing,
Lead Health Coach, Dan Tribley
EPIC Functional Medicine