Throughout the last century, the length of time we spend on eating a meal has decreased to the point where we even eat while driving, standing or working on the computer. Eating in a hurry brings various disadvantages to our body and mind. We tend to not listen to our body signals and not recognize when we had enough food. Instead learning to eat slower helps to be aware and prevent weight gain. But what if I told you that learning to eat slower requires only a few simple exercises? Here you find 5 exercises to slow down and regain awareness.
Our body is designed to eat slowly, which is what we have been doing for thousands of years. When there were no efficient cooking systems, mills to grind and refine wheat, or industrial meat pounders, we were forced to chew meat, cereal grains or acorns and roots or vegetables for a long time. The nutrients from these foods were absorbed more easily and the calories consumed faster during the work needed to get food.
As we have developed technologies capable of packaging foods rich in calories, these have become more accessible to fit with our lives which have become increasingly frenetic. Consequently, we developed the attitude of Gobble, Gulp and Go. We introduce a big quantity of energy quickly and without realizing but already thinking about our next thing to do. An amount of energy that we probably will not be able to burn off due to our sedentary lifestyle.
Our mouth is responsible for one of the 9 types of hunger - the one that leads us to desire food when the mouth needs pleasant sensations. What brings pleasure to our mouth depends on genetic factors but also on cultural factors and conditioning. To satisfy mouth hunger, it is not enough to chew and swallow food, but a strong presence of the mind is necessary.
If we are busy working, chatting or running from one job to another while we eat, our mouth hunger is not satisfied and it will ask for more. We could get to a point where the stomach starts complaining because it's too full but the mouth is still hungry.
How many times does it happen that we are served a nice plate of pasta, and we pay attention to the first delicious bite but then at a certain point we look down and the plate is empty without even realizing it? To be satisfied with smaller portions of food we need to eat with the mind in the mouth. Be present mindfully from the beginning to the end of each meal and chew well to get satisfaction from the different textures and flavors.
Chewing well not only helps you feel more satisfied with every bite, but also helps you to start absorbing nutrients even before swallowing. In fact, the enzymes present in saliva allow us to start breaking down foods and obtaining more nutrients from them.
But this does not happen when we hold the food in the mouth only for a few seconds and the food passes from the mouth to the throat almost unchanged. Therefore, if we chew well and chop food in small parts it can be absorbed more quickly and easily. In this way the signals for appetite control are sent faster and we end up consuming less food.
Being able to understand when our stomach is satisfied is as important as understanding when it is hungry. Satiety signals are sent via 4 different mechanisms: The first signal starts from the feeling of tension in the stomach and reaches the hypothalamus in the brain; the second concerns the nutrients absorbed in the blood, the third is related to the insulin and glucagon hormones secreted by the pancreas and intestines; and the fourth signal comes from fat cells that release a hormone that helps supress hunger.
The time we need to perceive satiety signals is about 20 minutes. So, imagine what happens when we eat a rushed meal in 10 minutes…. We find ourselves guided by other types of hunger (primarily mental type) and we consume too much food and more calories than our body needs before the satiety signals can be felt.
Before you start eating, take a break and tune in to the here and now. Observe your meal and note the colors, consistency and shape. While doing this, eat it with your eyes and imagine the sensations it will give you. Then eat it with your nose enjoying the perfume and imagining that you feed yourself only through the smell. Think about how the food got to you and take a moment to thank the people, plants and animals that brought the meal to you.
Try to count how many times on average you chew different foods. To help with digestion, it is recommended to chew each bite between 15 and 30 times. Or as Horace Fletcher would say, until you can no longer extract any flavor. Pay attention to how food changes its flavor and texture as you chew it. Also observe your reactions during this exercise. Are you impatient? Does it seem too difficult? Do you notice things you never noticed before?
How many times does it happen that while you are chewing you have the next spoon full of food ready in front of you? This happens unconsciously and pushes us to eat faster. On the other hand, if you release the cutlery on the table every time you put food in your mouth, you concentrate on the chewing. If you pick it up again only once you have swallowed, you will automatically find yourself eating more slowly.
This exercise is quite fun and demanding especially for those with a very weak non-dominant hand. Choosing to eat with your non-dominant hand a few times a week helps to slow down. Not having the same skills, that we have with the other hand, in fact, we have to concentrate and carry out the movements more slowly.
For those who are not very skilled with chopsticks this will be a fairly demanding exercise that will definitely slow you down and give you the chance to enjoy every bite. The more experienced can try using the non-dominant hand instead.
I hope you find these tips useful to apply in your everyday life. By simply slowing down your way of eating so that you can perceive all the signals of hunger and satiety you could obtain important results in your weight management without having to resort to any type of imposition or strict diet.