FOOD

How Eating Mindfully Can Help With Weight Management

Here are five easy steps to get started.

06/03/2017 6:50 AM AEDT | Updated 07/03/2017 5:15 AM AEDT

We've all done it. You start eating a meal and look down a few minutes later to see an empty bowl, even though you don't remember eating everything.

Whether it's because you're in a rush (or grew up with several siblings, meaning if you didn't eat fast you wouldn't get seconds or the biggest piece of dessert), we all have a tendency to inhale food.

While it is time efficient, eating in a rush can cause digestion issues, as well as feeling unsatisfied or hungry even after a sizeable meal.

Enter mindful eating -- an easy way to help slow down eating and keep you full more quickly (and for longer).

"When it comes to healthy eating, the focus tends to be on what we eat and when we eat as opposed to how we eat," Alexandra Parker, accredited practising dietitian from The Biting Truth, told The Huffington Post Australia. "Mindful eating is all about becoming more aware of how we eat -- the sensations experienced and the thoughts and emotions that we have around food."

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Look familiar?

The benefits

If you prefer stats or are put off by the word 'mindful', here are some concrete reasons to start integrating mindful eating.

"There is a growing body of research that indicates paying more attention to the way we eat may have beneficial outcomes in terms of our overall health and wellbeing," accredited practising dietitian from The Biting Truth Anna Debenham said.

"Mindful eating not only allows you to enjoy your food and all the flavours, but also helps you digest food properly and tune into your hunger signals. By giving our bodies the time to register fullness and respond accordingly, it can help prevent overeating and support weight management."

Think about it: it takes your brain up to 20 minutes to feel full due to a disconnect between the brain and gut. So, if we slow down (i.e. mindful eating), then we're eating less food (and fewer calories).

When we become aware of what we eat, we tend to choose healthier options, minimise mindless snacking and grazing, and reduce emotional or stress-induced responses to eating.

Mindful eating is also a great strategy for emotional or stress eating, nutritionist Fiona Tuck explained.

"Eating mindfully helps us decipher our intent for eating. Many of us eat without purpose, be it out of boredom, to reduce stress or anxiety, to push down emotions or to comfort ourselves," Tuck told HuffPost Australia.

"We often give little thought to what we are actually putting into our bodies. Eating mindfully helps us to learn to eat when we are hungry and, to savour and enjoy the food.

"When we become aware of what we eat, we tend to choose healthier options, minimise mindless snacking and grazing, and reduce emotional or stress-induced responses to eating. We appreciate food for what it really is -- nourishment to keep us happy and healthy."

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Keen to start? Here are five easy tips for beginners.

1. Check how hungry you are

When we're starving, we all tend to quickly eat food and, oftentimes, overeat.

"Try not to let yourself get too hungry. When you get too hungry or are presented with really enticing food, you are more likely to eat more quickly and eat much more," Parker said.

"Listen to your body during the day and if you need a snack to tide you over between meals then this is okay. You just need to be mindful of your snack choices."

Equally as important, checking in and asking yourself how hungry you truly are can help differentiate between boredom/stress hunger and true hunger.

"Prior to the meal, think about how hungry you are on a scale between zero and 10 (zero being starving and 10 being Christmas Day full)," Debenham said.

"Ideally, we should aim to be feeling around 4-6 (neutral) when we sit down to eat a meal. Pause halfway through the meal and check in again with the scale. This helps prevent eating to the point where we are uncomfortably full."

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Use lunch as a chance to sit somewhere nice outside.

2. Sit down (away from your desk)

When you do go to eat, always sit down to make you mindful that you are eating. Avoid eating at your desk or while standing or on the run.

"Rather than eating lunch at your desk, go outside and enjoy it in the sunshine," Parker said.

"When you're at home, try to avoid mealtimes on the couch. Instead set the table nicely and eat at the dinner table. This way you are more likely to be conscious of eating the meal and therefore less likely to mindlessly eat."

3. Remove distractions

Distractions can shift our attention away from the act of eating and to smartphones, computers or television.

"When eating becomes a mindless act, it is often done too quickly. This can be problematic since the brain usually takes up to 20 minutes to actually respond to fullness. This can lead to overeating and potential weight gain," Debenham said.

"Eating while distracted -- for example, at your desk, scrolling through emails or in front of the television -- often leads to overeating which can result in unwanted weight gain."

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Go back to scrolling when you're done eating.

4. Chew, chew, chew

After inhaling that delicious burrito or bowl of noodles, many people can experience digestive issues, which aren't exactly conducive to a relaxing time.

"When we eat in a hurry or with distractions, we can chew our food less effectively, swallowing larger pieces of food that then become harder to digest, giving rise to gas and indigestion," Tuck said.

"The first step to good digestion starts in the mouth. Mindful eating helps us to chew food thoroughly, taste it and savour it. Not only does this help with digestion, it helps the brain to recognise that you are eating and tasting good food, leaving your body more satiated."

To help the process, try chewing 15 to 30 times (depending on the food) before swallowing. Basically, just slow it down.

"Another great trick is to try eating with chopsticks -- this is sure to slow you down," Debenham said.

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If you're eating at home, include different textures using nuts, seeds, avocado and grains.

5. Focus on all senses

"Mindful eating means eating with awareness," Tuck told HuffPost Australia. "Being aware of your intent for eating, aware of the taste and texture of the food, and aware of the benefits for your body from eating the food."

"Engage your senses," Parker said. "Think about the colours, smells, sounds, textures and tastes when you eat.

"Think about the different flavours and textures you experience with each mouthful of the meal. This will help you to enjoy the meal and eat in a slow and healthy manner."

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