Habit 1: Eat Slowly
At Sleekgeek, we recognise the benefits of mindfulness and see it as a crucial strategy in today’s overly distracted world.
Eating slowly is one of the most effective ways to practice mindfulness and become more conscious of what you are eating. It’s all about becoming more in-tune with your emotional and physical sensations, using that to help you gain better control over your eating habits.
Don’t worry! We aren’t going to make you start meditating or taking ice-cold baths to achieve enlightenment, but we do want to show you the benefits of slowing down, even just a tiny bit.
The benefits of eating slowly
It takes about 20 minutes from the start of your meal for your brain to send out satiety signals and hormones that indicate you are full and no longer need to eat.
If you eat too quickly then you will completely miss these hunger and satiety cues. You are very likely to finish your meal (and have eaten too much) before you realise you are full. You may even be tempted to go back for seconds or dessert.
This holds true for both junk food and healthy foods. (Yes, you can still maintain or gain unwanted weight from even the healthiest foods if you eat too much of them.)
Research shows that those who eat slowly are generally much better off than those who gobble down their meals as if someone is going to steal their food.
In fact, eating slowly can provide enormous benefit at very little effort cost:
- People who eat slowly tend to be less overweight in general and also gain less weight over time compared to quicker eaters.
- Eating slowly increases how satisfied you are with what you ate (which is more than just being “full”).
- People who feel satisfied from a meal are less likely to experience cravings soon afterward.
- Eating slowly increases how full you feel after a meal.
- People who feel full after a meal are less likely to eat as frequently.
- People who feel fuller after eating a meal are more likely to maintain or decrease their portion size next time, whereas those who never really feel full or satisfied from a meal are more likely to increase their portion size next time.
- Eating slowly reduces the amount of calories you eat in general (which can lead to weight loss or better weight management).
- Eating slowly improves digestion (digestion start in the mouth, so gulping down food sabotages that process), and when food isn’t digested properly we get indigestion and other GI problems.
While eating slowly is definitely not the holy grail of weight loss, it is a habit that will help you manage emotional eating, improve portion control, and feel more satisfied with what you eat.
Eating slowly is the most important habit of all
We consider eating slowly to be one of two “anchor habits” when it comes to nutrition (the second is Eating to 80% Full). Every other habit will be easier to do and more effective if you can get this habit nailed down.
In fact, eating mindfully (eating slowly + eating to 80% full) is more important than what you eat, when you eat, where you eat, or who you eat with!
Because, no matter what comes your way, you can always choose to eat slowly and mindfully with any food, at any time, anywhere, around anyone, and in any situation.
Yes, even if it means sneakily eating junk food at 3am in the glow of your refrigerator without anyone knowing.
The goal is to create mindfulness around the food you eat, helping you understand things such as why you eat and whether food will solve that problem or not.
Your safety net
At Sleekgeek we are all about progress and not perfection.
This helps you get into an “always something” mindset rather than an “all or nothing” mindset, ultimately leading to better and more sustainable long-term success as you are always making the best of any circumstance.
So rather than being either “on” your diet or “off” your diet (stopping and starting), eating slowly and mindfully will help you bridge that gap and help you focus on always doing something.
Think of eating slowly as a safety net to fall back on.
We are big on healthy habits like eating lots of protein and vegetables, but we also know that life gets messy and it isn’t always possible to eat exactly what we want. Rather than letting everything fall apart because you can’t eat the perfect meal, you can still choose to eat slowly and mindfully. You can still choose to stay in control.
If you ever feel overwhelmed, fall off the wagon, or find things not going the way you want them to, don’t panic.
Slow down. Pause. Breathe. Relax… and go back to eating slowly.
This is your anchor, your safety net, your home base – whatever you want to call it.
Eating mindfully is all about practice. The more you do it, the better you get at it. This is especially true if you are an emotional or binge eater.
Build a healthy relationship with food
Apart from missing your hunger and satiety cues when you eat too quickly, another problem is that it rushes the whole eating experience in general.
Very often this is because we live in an overly distracted world where time is of the essence, or, what is on the television and our mobile phones is seen as far more important than what is on our plate.
Rushing through your food makes it a mindless act. Apart from eating too quickly and too much, you will also likely build a very poor relationship with food.
Ever seen someone eat a large tub of ice cream slowly and mindfully while bawling their eyes out? Probably not. Chances are they were gulping it down like would make all the pain go away. It may help temporarily, but unless the problem is hunger then the solution isn’t food.
When you slow down and eat more mindfully, you gain better awareness over things like food-related triggers and how emotions affect what you eat. You are also able to better identify the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger, which in turn helps you make better decisions about whether to eat or not.
Be sure to check out our section on Overcoming Emotional Eating if you feel this hits home hard with you.
6 Ways to slow down
As simple as “just eat slower” sounds, you will find that a lot easier said than done.
Most of us know more or less what to do in order to be healthy, fit, loving, rich, and well-rested. After all, every day there is a new list published somewhere on “The top 10 things rich people do every day” or “The 5 best exercises to get you into the best shape of your life.“
The problem is that knowing and doing are two very different things.
This is why it’s important to break your goal or habit down into tiny actions that you can do to make it easier.
- Just slow down. Sure, 15-20 minutes to eat a meal might be ideal… but it’s a HUGE jump for most people. Our best advice is to just to start where you are and work your way up from there, taking one tiny step at a time. If you usually gobble down your food in 2 minutes, then try and aim for 4 or 5 minutes instead. If you usually take 5 minutes to eat, try to stretch it out to 8 or 10 minutes instead. This is all about intention and getting 1% better every day because all those tiny improvements add up over time.
- Set time aside to eat. One of the reasons we mindlessly eat in front of the TV, as our desk, and so on is because we don’t really see it as a standalone habit. Many have come to associate “lunch break” to be catch up on emails or browse social media and “dinner time” to actually be TV time. Focus more on creating real eating time where all you do is eat and/or spend quality time with friends and family.
- Avoid distractions. Eating in front of the TV, your computer, or while on your phone is distracting and you will pay less attention to your food. Furthermore, it may stimulate emotions such as mild anxiety, sadness and loneliness depending on the form of entertainment (e.g. A sad movie, an email from your boss that makes you anxious, or distressing news from a family member on Facebook) that could promote you to eat more quickly without realizing it if you are an emotional eater. Ideally, eat in an environment with minimal distractions and emotional stimulants.
- Chew more thoroughly and eat more foods that need chewing. Focus on chewing more thoroughly and slowly than you normally do, aiming to gradually increase the length over time until you find a speed that you are comfortable with. As a bonus, deliberately counting each chew in your head is a great exercise in mindfulness to do now and then but we don’t expect you to do it every meal. It’s all fine and well to tell you to chew more thoroughly, but this doesn’t help if the foods you are eating (or slurping) don’t actually require much chewing. Wholefoods like fibrous vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and protein generally contain a lot more fibre or substance to them that requires a bit more work before you can swallow.
- Put the knife and fork down regularly. This is a very simple habit that most people either do or they don’t do. Those who do it tend to be slower eaters and those who don’t tend to be faster eaters. Try putting your utensils down in between bites so that you can sit back, relax, breathe, sip something to drink, and show more open body language to create more discussion around the table if you eating with others. In fact, we also suggest that you don’t cut your next bite until you have swallowed your current one. If you are a quick eater then start paying more attention to how you eat. You will likely notice that you pick up some food with your fork, put it in your mouth, and then immediately start cutting or picking up the next piece of food before you have even finished your current one. Slow down. Sit back, relax, breathe, sip something to drink, and look around or interact with those around you.
- Be more social. While eating with others can be a form of “distraction”, it is no longer a one-sided distraction. Engaging in discussion and building better relationships with friends and family can make eating much more enjoyable and help you slow down how fast you eat. With that said, be mindful that your eating speed can be heavily influenced by those you eat with. If you are surrounded by others who are mindlessly eating and rushing their food, you are more likely to do the same. On the other hand, if you are surrounded by others who are eating more mindfully and slowly, then you are more likely to do the same too. You become like those who you spend your time with.
Things to think about
Eating slowly is all about building awareness.
Beyond actually practising eating slowly, it’s worth while thinking about how you eat and what might affect how you eat.
Here are some things to think about:
- Do you think you are a slow or quick eater?
- Does what you eat, what you do while you eat, where you eat, when you eat, and who you eat with tend to affect how quickly you eat?
- When you eat, do you truly savour and appreciate what you are eating or do you just go through the motions?
- What is normally your most satiating and satisfying meal?
What to do now?
Eating slowly and mindfully is all about practice and actually “doing “rather than just “knowing” you should.
- Step 1) Just try.
Identify one of the six strategies listed above to help yourself eat slowly today and give it a try.
- Step 2) Rinse and repeat.
Give each of the six strategies a try, one day at a time, to find what works for you. Being successful at something very rarely comes from finding the one “secret” or “trick” or “tip”. Instead, success tends to come from layering on strategy on top of strategy to cultivate and accumulate the kind of result that you want. Feel free to try some of your own strategies too.
- Step 3) Practice.
You don’t just wake up one day and become a slow or mindful eater. It’s something that you work on over and over again, slowly getting better over time. Focus on what you can do to just get a teeeny tiny bit better each day (get 1% better as we always say).
- Step 4) Share your strategy.
Which strategy did you choose in step 1 to try and help you eat more slowly? We’ve created a discussion thread here in the Sleekgeek Facebook Group (link coming soon) where we share some of our own choices and you can do the same. If you feel a bit stuck then this is the place for you.
Also, be sure to check out the previous instalments in this series: The Sleekgeek Food List, the Sleekgeek Kitchen Makeover Guide, the Sleekgeek Shopping List and Supermarket Survival Guide, the Sleekgeek Healthy Meal Template, and the Sleekgeek Portion Control Guide.
What’s up next?
Stay tuned for the next instalment in this series which is all about Eating to 80% Full.
This is where we introduce the second “anchor habit” and show you how it can be used as a simple, hassle-free, and intuitive method of calorie control to help you regulate your appetite and avoid overeating.
If you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for the Sleekgeek Health Revolution Newsletter so we can keep you up to date.