Intuitive Eating - 5 Ways to Eat Consciously
1. Turn off the distractions
Are you a person who sits in front of the TV while you eat? What about in front of your computer? Or do you take the time during meals to catch up on your text messages and social media? We all do it, but how good (or bad) is it?
I don’t know about you, but I grew up eating in front of a TV on those little folding TV tray tables, do you know what I’m talking about? And when we sat at the dining table and it was during the hour of WWF (World Wrestling Federation), my dad would literally slide the whole TV over so he wouldn’t miss anything, even though we were eating! Maybe some of you have these memories too and we can laugh about them now!
What it comes down to is when you aren’t focused on your food while you eat, your brain doesn’t even register that it’s eating. You gobble down your food literally unconsciously, like muscle memory, leading you to overeat and ultimately feel less satisfied with your food. This leads to your brain telling you that you’re hungry again in a short period, even though you already consumed plenty of calories.
2. Chew each bite between 30-40 times
When you take a bite of food, are you already loading your fork with your next bite? I call this “shoveling” your food in. And when you have that next bite hovering, you subconsciously feel rushed and don’t take the time to thoroughly chew the food you have in your mouth.
Digestion begins in your mouth. It takes time for enzymes in your saliva to start breaking down your food and digest it properly. If you skip this part of digestion, it can lead to digestive issues, like bloat, heartburn, indigestion and other maladies. When you inhale your food, you are also more prone to choking, which is definitely not a good thing.
My grandfather ate slower than anyone I know. He would just chew and chew and chew. It was sometimes quite annoying because there are those times when you really can’t take an hour to eat! However, he was at the perfect weight and in great shape his whole life, up until the day he died at the ripe old age of 87! He was definitely doing something right and he himself contributed maintaining his healthy weight to his slow eating.
3. Put your utensils down between bites
To help you avoid preparing your next bite while the previous bite is still in your mouth, put your utensils down between bites. Take your bite and put your fork or whatever you are using, down on your plate and take your hands off of it. Just chew your food thoroughly and swallow before picking your utensils back up. Doing this will really help you slow down because you cannot inhale your food if your next bite is not prepared to be shoved in.
This also allows you to engage in conversation with others at the meal because you have a pause between bites and gives you the chance to talk without food in your mouth (I really hope you don’t do that anyway!). Research has shown that societies that socially engage with each other while they eat enhances one’s sense of contentedness, as well as overall feelings of wellbeing. Giving yourself a pause between bites gives you the opportunity to experience this.
4. Take a moment to use your 5 senses to experience your food
When you sit down to a meal, do you really look at what you’re eating? Not what you are eating (ie: chicken with mashed potatoes and a salad), but are you REALLY looking at it - the colors, the shapes? Are you smelling the different scents that are coming from the food? When you put a bite into your mouth, are you tasting the different flavors of the food? Are you feeling the textures of it?
My husband is a fast eater. You know how it goes, he just doesn’t listen to me, it’s too close to home. After he finishes his meal, and I’ve only finished maybe a third of my plate, I ask him how it tasted, looked or about the texture and he usually says, “I don’t know.”
Does this sound like you? When you eat, take time to really use all of your five senses to experience what you’re eating. Try discussing it with your kids, get them in on it too. Make a game out of it. It will help them to develop the habit of eating consciously, which is a good thing.
5. Stop eating on the run
In the US, taking everything to go has become the norm. At most places nowadays, you cannot even get a regular cup, you get paper or plastic, even when eating in. Cars are equipped with cup holders everywhere. I’ve even learned to steer with my legs so I can eat with my two hands (don’t tell anyone I told you this!).
I was in France driving through the villages with my husband quite a few years ago and we wanted a quick coffee. We stopped at a place, ordered a coffee to go and they looked at me like I was an alien. They politely said, “Sorry, we don’t have coffee to go.” So we had to sit down and drink our coffee. What an enlightening experience! It was so enjoyable to just sit there, enjoy each other’s company and experience the surroundings of the place. It really opened my eyes to the bad habit I had acquired of always being on the go with my consumables.
I know you are probably thinking it’s impossible to stop, sit down and eat all the time. I get it. I still eat on the run sometimes myself. What I’m asking is for you to be aware of it. Don’t make it the norm. At home, designate eating areas and insist on the family eating in those spots only, preferably away from the TV or other distractions. Take a few minutes to sit down and savor that cup of coffee, meal or snack. You may be surprised to find that it’s not really that hard to stop for a couple of minutes, and it may help you clear your mind and boost your creativity too, which will be beneficial for you in all areas of your life in the long run.
6. Bonus Tip
As I’m writing this, I thought of another very important thing to avoid - eating out of the bag or box, especially when not seated at a table. You know what I mean, right? Standing in front of the pantry, stuffing your hand in the bag of chips. Or sitting in front of the TV, eating straight out of the jar of nuts. This is unconscious eating at its finest. Unless you are eating out of a single serving bag, you can very easily eat the whole bag or container of food and not even realize it until all of a sudden, there are only a few pieces left. Most bags of chips have at least four servings, other foods can have more in its packaging. Start calculating calories per serving and you end up eating the equivalent to a whole meal or more just in chips.
If this sounds familiar, stopping this one thing can make a significant difference. The best thing for you to do is separate out the food into portions right away. If it’s chips or nuts, make one portion baggies. This will make it much easier to prevent overeating.
In the end, what we are talking about here is eating consciously. Being aware of what you are putting in your mouth leaves you feeling satisfied with less, so you end up eating less and guess where that leads you?? Looser fitting clothes, more energy and generally feeling great!
Before you start doing any of these things, start by observing your normal behaviors. Are you guilty of any or all of these things? Observe others around you. Do you see these patterns in them? If they are friends or family, perhaps you can give them some of these tips!