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The Art of Mindful Eating

Have you ever eaten a whole meal and not remembered what you just ate or realized you inhaled your food so fast you never even tasted it? This is the opposite of mindfulness and usually happens when we’ve been eating and multitasking. Mindful eating means giving your meal your full attention. Mindful eating allows us to engage the parasympathetic part of our nervous systems — the part involved in digestion — and also allows us to not overeat because we are more apt to eat more slowly. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain chemistry to catch up with what’s going on in your stomach; If you eat too fast, you override these messages and risk overeating.

On the other hand, watching television, talking on the phone, working on your computer, and driving in your car while you’re eating, for example, all increase the likelihood of overeating. Watching TV increases food intake by at least 50% whereas paying attention to your meal is linked to eating less - both now and later on.

There are several strategies that can also help you to eat “the right” amount:

1. Turn off distractions including the TV (yes, even the news), your smartphone, your iPad and computer, and anything that keeps your from focusing solely on eating.

2. Eat from smaller packages, bowls, and plates; this reduces the amount you eat “mindlessly.”

3. “Serve and store” before you eat. Serve your plate, then immediately store away the remaining food for leftovers before you eat. This simple technique reduces food intake by 14% over serving a small portion and then coming back for more.

4. Practice one minute of deep, slow breathing before you start to eat; again, this engages your calm nervous system mode, and allows your body to make the best use of your food, without overeating.

5. Take a mindful lunch break for at least 30 minutes (an hour if you can!) off the computer, at least a few times each week.

6. Practice Hari Hachi Bu. This Japanese tradition of eating until you’re 80% full—or satisfied—rather than stuffed is another way to eat the amount your body needs without overdoing it, and re-harmonizes your brain-gut communication.

If the idea of mindful eating is new to you, pick one meal a week to practice at. Here are some tips for getting started:

1. Set your kitchen timer to 25 minutes, and take that entire time to savor your meal. More relaxed eating has been shown to improve digestion.

2. Start each meal with one minute of silence and gratitude.

3. Slow down by eating with your non-dominant hand, or try eating with chopsticks if you don’t usually do so (studies show these tricks help with weight loss).

4. Take small bites and chew well. Simply making sure that you are enjoying and savoring your food, tasting and noticing the flavors, textures, aromas, and enjoyment of the colors on your plate will put you into a mindful state that will improve your digestion, mood, inner calm, and can help with your weight, adrenal health, and sleep.

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