Research has now shown that it is not just how much you eat that is important for weight management, but also how you eat can have a big impact on your caloric intake and subsequent weight management.
One of the first things we always recommend to clients, regardless of their goal, is to slow down and adopt mindful eating practices.
What is mindful eating important and how does it affect weight loss?
Picture this - You’re at work and you’ve had a really stressful day. Then finally, you have 20 minutes to run out, grab lunch and eat it. You eat your lunch at your desk while working and before you know it you’ve finished it all. 20 minutes later you’re bloated, gassy and uncomfortable. You also can barely remember how the food tasted and you don’t feel fully satisfied - it’s nearly like you never ate at all.
Your body has two nervous states. The first is sympathetic nervous state commonly known as fight or flight state. We’re in this state when we’re stressed, like in the scenario described above. While this state is great if you’re being hunted by a tiger like in prehistoric times, it’s not so great for our digestion as secretion of digestive juices and enzymes is decreased and transit time is increased, which can result in bloating and diarrhoea. It’s also not great for controlling caloric intake, actually enjoying food or
This is where mindful eating comes in. It helps to bring you into the second state, which is known as a parasympathetic state, or 'rest and digest' mode. You eat more slowly, you enjoy the food and your body actually has a chance to realise that it’s been fed and you’re full.
So in theory, eating more mindfully and slowing down could help you listen to your internal hunger cues better. In fact, observational studies have reported that overweight and obese individuals eat at a faster rate than lean individuals which might lead to greater caloric intakes. There’s also some evidence that how quickly someone eats is a heritable behavioural phenotype, meaning that our genetics can affect whether someone is a slow or fast eater.
This has led many researchers to question whether eating slowly could actually result in people consuming fewer calories.
Were they right? Can eating slowly actually make you eat less?
Based on the research we currently have available, it looks like adopting mindful eating practices and eating more slowly can actually lead to people eating less food and consuming less calories.
A 2014 systematic review and meta-analysis by Robinson et al. examined this topic. When over 22 studies were examined, it was found that a slower eating rate was associated with lower energy intake, in comparison to a faster eating rate.
What’s the mechanism behind eating rate and caloric intake?
It’s not entirely clear how eating rate affects energy intake. It’s been suggested that the speed of eating and frequency of chewing may influence different hormones involved in satiety and fullness and may alter levels of insulin, glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), cholecystokinin (CCK), Peptide YY (PYY) and pancreatic polypeptide.
The duration and intensity of oral exposure may also be a driving factor behind eating rate and food intake. Numerous studies have shown that when eating rate is kept at a constant speed, increasing oral sensory exposure leads to a lower energy intake. Whereas a fast eating rate is directly related to a less sensory exposure and increased food intake.
So how do you adopt mindful eating practices?
Taking 3-5 deep belly breathes is the quickest way to shift your body out of fight or flight mode and into rest and digest mode
Take time to sit down and eat your meal without distractions such as your phone or computer. This will help you listen to your internal hunger cues. This is really important for the first stage of digestion known as the cephalic phase. This is when the smell and anticipation of eating food triggers the secretion of the digestive enzymes and juices we need to break down our food. Using technology can interfere with this. Eating with distractions can also contribute to overeating as we don’t pay attention to our internal hunger cues
Put your fork down between mouthfuls
Chew your food, And chew more. The more you chew, the longer it will take you to finish a meal. This is also very beneficial for digestion as mechanical digestion ie.chewing takes place in the mouth. The first stage of chemical digestion also occurs in the mouth with the secretion of digestive enzymes in saliva. These stages are important to break food down into smaller usable forms for further digestion. Remember, you don’t have any teeth in your stomach!
When eating with a group of people, aim to be the last one finished their food
Appetite, caloric intake and weight management are complex areas of nutrition. Weight loss in particular is an area highly saturated with “diet” products like teatoxes, fat burners and meal replacements which can be harmful, expensive and can fail to deliver any long-lasting results. Mindful eating however, is an option which is free, safe and offers benefits such as decreased food intake, improved action on internal hunger cues, weight loss and improved digestion - It's a double thumbs up from us!