We all know that there’s a multitude of different methods you can use when you’re dieting down - Carb cycling, intermittent fasting, refeeds. However, we think that there’s one really valuable tool that’s not commonly spoken about, or utilised as much - And that’s mindful eating.
What is Mindful Eating?
When we discuss mindful eating, it’s important to start off by explaining the two main nervous states in your body - A sympathetic nervous state, or a parasympathetic nervous state. Which nervous state we’re in has a big impact on how we digest and absorb the food we eat, as well as how much we eat overall.
Fight or Flight Mode
A sympathetic nervous state is also known as “fight or flight.” This is when our body is in a state of stress and our production of stress hormones is high. This was great many years ago when we were being chased by a predator, but not so good for digestion. When in this state the body is focused on survival, meaning the production of digestive juices and enzymes is decreased and transit time is increased which can result in bloating and diarrhoea, and overall poorer digestion.
Rest and Digest Mode
A parasympathetic nervous state is often referred to as rest and digest mode. This is when our body is primed and at its best for digestion and absorption. Mindful eating helps to shift your body into a parasympathetic nervous state. It’s when someone is eating slowly and mindfully, chewing every bite of food thoroughly, and at all time listening to your own internal hunger and satiety cues, rather than eating a meal quickly and barely even registering it.
Needless to say, our body digests and absorbs foods much better when in rest and digest mode.
What does mindful eating have to do with fat loss though?
Mindful eating is something we work on with all of our clients, regardless of their goal. Mindful eating is something that can really benefit you if you’re trying to lose body fat. But you might be thinking, what role does it placy in fat loss?
One reason is due to what’s known as retronasal olfaction (RO). This occurs when smells from foods you’re eating travel to back of throat and nasal passage after we chew and swallow food. RO is really important for satiety and helping us realise we’re full. Eating slowly, chewing food thoroughly and keeping food in mouth longer gives our body time to send signals to our brain to let it know we’re getting enough nutrients, which then can downregulate appetite and the drive to seek out more food. However, if we don’t chew food, and eat super quickly, our bodies don’t get a chance to benefit from RO.
Another benefit of mindful eating is that you’re more appreciative of the food you’re eating, and register that you’re eating it. When someone is eating slowly without distractions like their phone or the TV, they actually pay more attention to the food on their plate, and enjoy it more. We can all relate to watching a movie with some sweets or popcorn in front of us, and before you know it, you put your hand in the bowl and it’s empty! There’s no worse feeling than not realising it was the last bite! So eating quickly is not great for controlling caloric intake, or actually enjoying food, or letting your body realise you’re full. Chances are, if you’re not paying attention, you’ll eat more and enjoy it less.
Interestingly, a faster eating rate has been associated with higher rates of overweight and obesity. In addition to this, a 2014 systematic review and meta-analysis by Robinson et al. found that when over 22 studies were examined, a slower eating rate was associated with lower energy intake in comparison to a faster eating rate.
RO is thought to play a role in this, and might also influence different hormones involved in satiety and fullness such as insulin, glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), cholecystokinin (CCK), Peptide YY (PYY) and pancreatic polypeptide.
How do I adopt mindful eating practices?
Mindful eating has so many benefits, and what makes it even better is that it’s completely free. You can start adopting mindful eating practices at your very next meal.
So how can you start eating more mindfully and reap the benefits of it?
-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. Put your hand on your stomach before eating - Feel how your hand moves in as you inhale, and out slowly as you exhale.
-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.
-Put your fork down between mouthfuls and don’t pick it up again until you’ve swallowed each bite.
- Set a timer. Aim to make your meals last between 12-15 minutes. You’d be surprised how difficult this can be, and how quickly you finish your meals.
-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, or 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. The longer food stays in your mouth, the more you benefit from retronasal olfaction.
-When eating with a group of people, aim to be the last one finished their food.