From Melissa Joulwan, Author of “Well Fed Weeknights: Complete Paleo Meals in 45 Minutes or Less” (Available on November 1st) and founder of MelJoulwan.com.
We’ve all done it! We mindlessly eat foods that we don’t want. But they’re there: the so-so cake at a co-worker’s birthday party. The bottomless baskets of tortilla chips at a favorite Mexican restaurant. Bagels in the breakroom on Wednesdays. Maybe even dinner in front of the TV or laptop. We snarf our way through snacks or entire meals without really tasting or enjoying what we’re eating. This can lead to more calories than we need, to consuming foods that do nothing to enhance our health, and to poor digestion that disrupts our energy, our moods, and our sleep.
Let’s banish mindless eating from our lives!
You’ll enjoy your food more—physically and emotionally—if you make it a habit to slow down, savor your meal, and mindfully taste each bite. Here are some tips to help you do that:
Cook quickly, eat slowly.
I’m a cyclone when I cook, all the burners fired up and multiple timers running. My focus is on the sizzle of fat in the skillet and the aroma of the spice clouds hovering above the stove. It sounds romantic, but I’m no Martha Stewart; my weeknight kitchen vibe is very much in the mode of “get it done,” rather than “cooking is fun.” It can be really tough to downshift from doing to eating, so I’ve trained myself to take a deliberate pause between plating my food and taking my first bite. I arrange my utensils and dish just so, let my gaze slowly rove over my plate, and take a deep inhale-exhale to let the frenetic cooking energy dissipate. Some people say a prayer or express gratitude for their meal. Experiment to find the ritual that will help you pause and reflect before you eat. That mental break contributes to a physical state that aids digestion and brings feelings of satisfaction.
Eat at the table.
Do I always sit at my dining table when I eat? No. Sometimes I eat standing at my counter because I don’t want to sit. And on workout days, I eat my pre- and post-workout snacks in the car or while rambling on the hiking trail behind the gym. But the majority of my meals are served on a plate while I sit at the table in our kitchen. You don’t need a formal dining room or fine china. But the act of slowing down to eat—in a space devoted to eating—puts you in the mindset to focus on your food. It sends a message to your brain that says, “I’m eating now,” so your senses and digestion can begin the act of nourishing you.
Banish screens at meal time.
Fact: We eat more when we’re distracted. That’s why it’s pretty important to shut down the television, computer, phone, and other gadgets while we eat. The entertainment and diversion of screens distract our attention from what we’re eating—which can leave us feeling unsatisfied at the end of the meal. The brain doesn’t register the satiety that should be attached to the food because of the interference of that cute cat video or stressful work email. Ban screens from the table and focus on the food.
Use a plate, bowl, and utensils.
I’ve already admitted I sometimes eat standing up, so I might as well confess that when I eat alone, I occasionally eat straight from the cooking pan. Why wash extra dishes? I don’t recommend you engage in this behavior regularly (although, it can be relaxing and indulgent once in a while). You’ll feel more satisfied—and be more successful in achieving your health-related goals—if you place appropriate servings of protein and vegetables on a smallish, individual serving plate. Normal portions served on smaller plates trick your brain into thinking you’re eating more, leading you to feel more satisfied when you’re finished.
Put down your fork and chew well.
My parents were sticklers for good table manners when I was kid. We always ate dinner together at our kitchen table, and I was instructed repeatedly to put my fork down between bites. There was no shoveling allowed at the table. That annoying rule was actually excellent advice, so I’m going to pass it along to you—with love. Place your fork on the rim of your plate between bites to ensure that you don’t snarf in your food too quickly. And here’s another tip for you: Chew each bite of food a lot, somewhere between 30 and 50 times. Research shows that digestion and satiation improve when food is well chewed before being swallowed.
Wait 20 minutes.
It takes about 20 minutes for the “I’m full” message to reach our brains. To give your head time to catch up with your stomach, eat slowly and pause until at least the 20-minute mark before hitting the stove for seconds. If you still feel unsatisfied after the waiting period, add another small serving of protein and vegetables to your plate and enjoy every bite.