How Eating Slow Can Transform Your Health and Make You More Productive
When you are hovered over your computer, do you think about what you’re eating or do you just shove it in your mouth? Likely the latter. And how long does it take you to eat a meal at work? Probably less than 20 minutes. And do you stop eating when you feel satisfied or do you finish everything on the plate, in the tupperware or whatever was wrapped up “to go” in paper for you? Not surprisingly, you probably finish it off, mindlessly unaware of portion size, so you can get to that call, meeting, errand or just keep up with the increasingly fast pace that we are working at.
Personally, multi-tasking and slowing down is a work in progress for me, and I suffer from digestion issues if I eat too quickly or on-the-go. I have a European heritage, and I think about how Europeans tend to not eat and drink on-the-go or at their desks like Americans do. Rather, they sit down to enjoy their coffee or meals, so much that the only reason they have “to-go” cups at European cafes seems to be for the American tourists.
Enter mindful eating, a practice that can transform our health dramatically. Mindful eating is simply making yourself aware of what you are eating and how much you are eating. When we eat mindfully, we focus on things such as the color of our food, the portion size, the way it is plated, where the food came from, how we feel when we're eating it and how the food is going to nourish our bodies.
Sara Vance, CN, author of The Perfect Metabolism Plan and nutritionist for the reputed Golden Door Spa, explains that, “When a client tells me they get indigestion after lunch, before I ask them what they are eating, I ask how they are eating their lunch. More often than not, they are eating in front of their computer doing work. I always say, stress and digestion don’t mix.”
Vance uses the analogy of distracted driving to explain what she refers to as “distracted eating.” She explains, “When we eat in front of the computer, television or while driving, we aren’t focused on our food. Mindful eating is the practice of eating without distractions. When we eat mindfully, not only do we digest our food better, but we enjoy it more too.”
A recent study showed that mindfulness -- and not certain foods -- is what leads to weight loss and better health. The study concluded that, “Increased mindful eating has been shown to help participants gain awareness of their bodies, be more in tune to hunger and satiety, recognize external cues to eat, gain self-compassion, decrease food cravings, decrease problematic eating and decrease reward-driven eating.”
While it may be unrealistic to count your bites or examine the color and texture of the tomatoes in your meal, you can at the very least slow down the pace at which you chew. And before you chew, ask yourself: Am I listening to my body cues? Am I eating because the clock says noon or because I really am hungry? Otherwise, a lot of our food consumption, in particular while working, tends to come in the form of addictive eating, stress eating or eating out of boredom; essentially, the opposite of mindful eating.
So how can you try mindful eating out for yourself? Try the exercise below, but pick a time when you’re not scrolling through your phone and/or typing away in front of your computer. Set aside time to simply eat, not multi-task. Here's how.
- Look at your food and notice its color, texture and size. Take a bite and chew very slowly, and make yourself aware of the sensation of the smell, taste and texture. Keep chewing, because many of us swallow food prematurely, which can lead to indigestion, cramping and, naturally, overeating and weight gain.
- Take at least 20 minutes to eat your meal, pause in between bites and put your fork down. If this is difficult for you, make “fast eating” physically challenging by eating with your non-dominant hand or by using chopsticks.
- Use your mind. Be grateful for your food and think about where it came from, who prepared it for you (even if you prepared it, be grateful for that!) and specific seasonings or flavors that you enjoy. Think about how the food makes you feel while you eat it and especially afterwards, as this can help you make better decisions about your nutrition going forward. Does something give you energy? Does it make you lethargic? Do you regret eating something? Think about why you are eating and what you are putting in your mouth, learning to truly enjoy and appreciate simple and healthful food.
Finally, take a little break once you feel satisfied. Vance also comments that it “takes your brain and body about 20 minutes to register feelings of fullness.” The likely results will include consuiming fewer calories and eating less without feeling deprived; improved digestion; a better understanding of hunger cues; and an improved ability to stop eating when you feel satisfied, so that you are not eating to discomfort. Overall, you will change your relationship with food, focus less on reward-driven eating and reduce your frequency of problematic eating.
So, take the 30 minutes away from your work and desk if you are able to. Not only will this break result in more efficient performance, but you will also come back to your desk feeling more focused and recharged. While it’s unrealistic to do this every day, at least try to slow down the pace at which you eat. You will feel the results with your first meal, and set yourself in the right direction of creating a simple, healthy habit that can quickly improve your health and digestion, help you feel better and make you more productive at home and at the office.