When it comes to eating, it's certainly not a race. Yet, do you ever feel as though you're finished before everyone else has even gotten through half the meal? And, if so, are you already thinking about seconds or eyeing that buffet again?
Being more mindful when eating has several benefits. Not only does it help you literally slow down, but it also makes you more in touch with portions, flavors, tastes, and textures, says Heather Caplan, a dietician and expert in mindfulness technique. (And, a few ways to become more mindful in general.)
Here's why it works. "I work with clients to adopt mindful eating practice habits because without awareness, we eat without enjoying or acknowledging the food we've consumed," she says.
It's common to hear that people can't remember what they had for breakfast that day, or dinner the night before. We're so distracted by social media, news, work, or whatever else, that we don't prioritize satisfaction with eating, she explains. And, without that satisfaction, we're more likely to eat more than we need, she says.
What's more, "mindfulness is helpful because it brings awareness to what your body is signaling to you, to what it actually needs," she says. This way, you'll be more in tune with your cravings and hunger level to prevent overeating.
When someone follows food rules, or a diet, instead of eating mindfully, chances are they eat without feeling hungry, or stop eating before (or long after) feeling full, she says. So, a fix? Mindfulness technique. "This has the opposite effect of diet restrictions—which often backfire in the way of cravings, constant hunger, or in some cases, binge eating," she says. (And, a few food swaps to beat cravings.)
Clearly the benefits are real. Here's what to do.
1. Train Yourself To Eat Slower
Get the timer ready. "Slow down during eating. Start by timing yourself and seeing how quickly you finish a meal," says Caplan. Then once you have that time in mind, try extending it by a few minutes at a time, and taking the time to notice and savor your meals, she suggests.
Keep track of your times in a journal to manage your progress. And, you can have a goal in mind. Let's say: taking at least 30 or 45 minutes to finish a meal. Aim to work within that time frame, and adjust when necessary (like if you're out with friends).
2. Eat When You're Hungry
Had breakfast an hour ago but you're in the mood for a little snack? Don't deprive yourself if you're really hungry. A tip? Drink a glass of water first, then see how you feel. (And, a few ways to stay more hydrated during the day for better health.)
"Notice hunger, and give yourself permission to eat when you feel hungry. As you become more mindful of your hunger cues, you can start to distinguish levels of hunger," she says.
Do you just need a snack? Or a full meal? Asking yourself helps you tune in with what your body needs, instead of turning to food or calorie rules to decide what it needs, she says.
3. Pay Attention To Your Cravings
Sometimes the body craves things because it's not satisfied or it's looking for a different fix elsewhere. Being mindful when eating can help sort the confusion.
"Eat things that taste and feel satisfying to you. And, notice when you start to crave something else immediately after eating," she says.
If you're craving something, whatever you ate wasn't really satisfying. "Mixing nutrients—such as balancing meals with carbs, proteins, and fats—will help with satisfaction, though," she says. So will honoring cravings and food preferences, instead of sticking to a meal plan with foods you don't often enjoy or restrictions in calories.
A tip? Lower your overall sugar intake, as sugar can spike those cravings and increase hunger.
4. Take Pauses
Yes, this might seem more orderly, but it could work until you've adjusted. To be more mindful, literally make yourself slow down by creating certain rules.
For instance, say that after every three bites, you'll put your fork down and wait a minute before eating again. Or, try eating foods with chopsticks that wouldn't normally be eaten that way. Chopsticks can help you naturally slow down, as it takes more time to pick up the food and handle them with correct form.
Or, take a sip of water between bites. (Or every couple bites.) This will fill your belly up and slow you down, increasing awareness of changing appetite levels.
5. Dine With Company
Take a moment to actually appreciate that, instead of scarfing it down to go do something else, and be present with your current company, says Caplan.
"Eat with a friend or family member. Family or social meals can be more satisfying and enjoyable, and will slow you down as you have conversations and interact with someone else," she says. (For instance, here's how to plan a romantic date night at home.)
Though a warning: Sometimes we mimic others' eating patterns. So, if you're eating with friends and everyone is ordering nachos, fries, and double cheeseburgers, you don't necessarily need to eat all that. Instead, go with what you're craving and be mindful to engage in conversation and monitor portions. Don't feel obligated to consume everything in sight just because others are doing it.