Rushed eating habits are a common side effect of our fast-paced, smart phone-addicted society. While you may be stuffing your face with salads and quinoa, you are likely overeating and causing yourself to feel hungrier throughout the day. Slow. Down. Why make yourself busier when you can basically meditate during meals? “Zen eating gives you a feeling of total control and relaxation when eating,” says Scott Hirsch, founder of Zen Eating. “You’ll find that you eat slower, enjoy your food more, and feel full from less food.” Here are simple ways to practice a calmer state-of-mind (and stomach) when you eat.
Focus on the meal
Meals should be just as relaxing as other self-care practices. Studies show that distracted or hurried eating can prompt you to eat more, whereas attentive eating principles, such as Zen eating, positively influence food intake and weight maintenance. Avoid eating when you are busy or bored. No work, no emails, no calls, no TV. Set up a soothing dining space—a table away from your office or work space—and set aside time to enjoy every bite.
Try mindful eating
The mindful eating practice is all about paying attention to what’s on your plate, including the colors, smell, and taste of the food, as well as your body’s reactions before, during, and after eating. Take deep breaths and small bites, checking in with yourself between each. Studies show that focusing on your plate decreases the risk of snacking between meals.
Chew your food
This may sound obvious, but up to 97 percent of adults do not swallow correctly, says John Mew, DDS, of John Mew Orthotopics in the UK. Most people swallow too much food at once because they don’t fully close the tongue-to-palate gap, which causes you to wolf down meals. What’s more, the process of chewing helps the stomach metabolize food, and every bad swallow triggers a stress response in the body that leaves you less satisfied.
Keep in mind that dense foods should be chewed at least 30 times before swallowing to aid in the digestive process. You should also avoid taking a second bite until you have fully swallowed the first. If you find yourself eating too fast, you may want to consider oral therapy. “Zen Eating gets your oral muscle memory to work for you, not against you,” says Hirsch, who created the Zen Eating Sipper, a new water sipping device that trains the tongue and throat to swallow less amounts of food at once. According to Hirsch, having a physical tool to help you eat less is better than relying on willpower alone.
Take your time
You get an hour lunch break but find yourself eating takeout at your desk. Sound familiar? According to the United States Department of Labor, Americans spend roughly one hour every weekday consuming food and drink, which fails in comparison to the 8-hour workday or recommended seven hours of sleep. Sit down for at least 20 minutes per meal, then give yourself another 10 minutes to unwind and digest; it takes the brain about 20 minutes from the start of a meal to send a signal to your body that it is full.