Over the last few weeks I have, as part of a book I am writing, embarked on a bit of an overhaul of my own diet. Apart from ‘tightening things up’ a bit, I’ve also decided (urged by my girlfriend) to slow my eating down and eat a bit more ‘mindfully’. I have generally been a ‘big’ and fast eater. I think being the youngest of five children, being generally served last and with the smallest portions has led to a degree of food insecurity and is the root of my speed-eating. The metabolism I had when I was young may have accommodated this. But now I’m 43, and I know I can’t get away with too much in the way of indiscriminate eating these days.
The cleaning up of my diet and some mindfulness when I eat (more about that in a moment) has worked ” I’ve lost 12 lbs (5.5 kg) in 6 weeks. While not all of this is fat, I’ve seen significant changes in my body fat measurements and shape. Bear in mind, I was not particularly overweight to begin with. Losing 12 lbs in 6 weeks is generally relatively easy if you’ve got, say, 60 lbs to lose. But in all honestly, I reckoned I had when I started I had 14 lbs to lose to get down to my ‘fighting weight’ and deflate the small spare tyre which had been accumulating around my waist over the last few years. So, to lose almost all of my excess weight in 6 weeks has been a dramatic result even I didn’t expect. And before you ask, I most certainly have not been starving myself. I’ve consistently eaten enough food to satisfy me properly, but no more.
What triggered me into writing about this today was the publication of a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association . Previous work had found that individuals who engage in regular yoga were less prone to weight gain, but this didn’t seem to be related to dietary or exercise patterns. It was postulated that it might have something to do with yoga doers were more likely to eat mindfully.
This follow-up study explored this and discovered that those who practice you do indeed tend to be more mindful about their eating. For example, they tend to eat when they need to, and not just because they are anxious, stressed or bored. They also tend to know when they are full, and stop at that point. Another feature of eating mindfully is the habit of not focusing on things other than the food and its consumption while eating.
I love food, and really enjoy certain textures and flavours. But while I’m a ‘foodie’ at heart, I have traditionally not thought much about the food that I eat while I’m eating it. I’ve made a conscious effort to change this over the last 6 weeks. In particular, I’m taking time to slow down and savour food more. I swear this has allowed me very quickly to curb my life-long tendency to eat ‘mindlessly’. As a result, I’m not only eating better but eating less. Not once have I experienced undue hunger though.
Slowing down and savouring food has taken a bit of practice, but it’s been perhaps one of the most useful dietary changes I’ve made. I’ve realised that a few tactics can make establishing this habit easier. First and foremost, I strongly suggest not getting too hungry before meals.
A higher protein, lower carb diet will help here, but use of healthy snacking can play a part too. The danger time for many individuals is between lunch and dinner. For many individuals there are just too many hours between these two meals, and this often causes individuals to get too hungry at the end of the day. The cure is to eat something in the late afternoon or early evening. While fruit is hailed as the snack of choice, I disagree. The problem with fruit is that while generally healthy, it can often do little or nothing in terms of sating the appetite. In which case, it’s not really doing its job of tiding you over nicely to dinner. Better snacks are more sating ones such as nuts and seeds.
Also, it helps to be conscious of how much food you’re putting into your mouth. If you’re stacking your fork or piling your spoon high with food, you might want to re-think this. Make a conscious effort to keep each mouthful small and manageable. I wrote about this recently here.
Finally, and very importantly, chewing food thoroughly helps. I suggest making a conscious effort to chew each mouthful of food at least 20 times before swallowing. While you are chewing, put your cutlery down, and don’t pick it up again until you’ve fully chewed and swallowed the last mouthful.
1. Framson C, et al. Development and validation of the mindful eating questionnaire. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(8):1439-44.