How You Should Eat to Manage Weight, Stress, and Well-being

“Don’t chew your worries, your suffering, or your projects. That’s not good for your health. Just chew the string bean.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh

Mindful eating may sound like some irrelevant fitness hack that probably has no effect on your quest to looking and feeling better.

It may seem too good to be true, or too easy to be something that has any measurable effect on your health.

But it is much more than that. What it offers will serve as a foundation of healthy eating for the rest of your life.

Most of us are going through our lives constantly stressed, and over stimulated. Work, long commutes, family duties, poor diets, lack of sufficient exercise, Netflix, late nights, too much caffeine, inadequate sleep, and then weekends possibly fuelled by alcohol.

Our physiological systems are running on over drive, and they need a break.

However, what most of us think we need is more work. More exercise. A more restricted diet. More hustle. Higher intense exercise. A new fad diet perhaps?

Grind as long as possible — you can sleep when your dead. Caffeine to keep going. Alcohol to take the edge off. Guess what all of this is? More stress that our bodies probably cannot cope with. Ultimately resulting in a system that can’t adapt efficiently.

No adaptation — no positive growth.

So what can we do to help slow down, become more present, and get back to the essentials?

Eat mindfully. Which means to eat slowly, and stop eating when you are satisfied - not stuffed.

The simple truth is this: People who eat more slowly tend to weigh less, eat fewer calories each day, have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, feel better overall, and are able to control stress in other areas of their life as well.

It’s like the adage, how you do anything is how you do everything.

How do you practice eating mindfully? Treat it as a skill. Read a few of these tips, and try them our for yourself. Start small, and don’t overwhelm yourself.

Eating Until Satisfied
In Japan, the practice of hara hachi bu is common. It is intuitive portion control. It is a way of life. But not only in Japan are there ways of gauging food intake. Across the world there are cultures that share similar traits.

Germany: “Tie the sack before it gets completely full.”

France: “I have no more hunger,” rather than saying, “I am full.”

India: “Drink your food and chew your drink.” A proverb meaning to eat so slowly that your food becomes liquid and to enjoy your drink and taste it thoroughly as if you were chewing food.

Know Thyself
The premise behind eating until 80% full is that we build appetite awareness. Once learned, this is vastly more powerful than calorie counting. The reason being is that now you have internal control measures (satisfaction, appetite, mood) vs external control measures (calorie counting).

The body is a great communicator. You just have to know how to listen.
An important thing to remember is that focus should be put on your body cues, not so much your mental cues. As an example, your brain may tell you that you need to eat breakfast, but your body may disagree. Maybe it wants a chance to wake up a bit and all you need is to wait 20 minutes after waking up to eat. Your body will thank you, and your mind will too because waiting 20 minutes saved you a headache and indigestion.

Like anything, this practice takes time.
This habit takes a lot of time simply because the amount of mindfulness needed to understand what 80% feels like. But the beauty is that this is part of the journey to learning your body. You get to realize when you are satisfied ­not when a meal template tells you you should be.

The power of learning, interpreting and trusting these cues cannot be overstated: Your body will function in a much more efficient and healthy 

You are the driver.
If you feel resistant to doing this daily practice, remember that you are the boss of it and are in the driver’s seat. You are in complete control. After all, I am not you, and nobody knows your body better than you.

There will be discomfort, and that’s okay.
I want you to expect a little anxiety and discomfort in the beginning. This is completely okay and everyone feels it. This is a learning stage, and making it through this only makes you stronger. We should not expect perfect “80% full” in the beginning. It’s a process, so the effort and mind you bring to the table ­ pun intended ­ are the most important factors.

Being hungry is not life or death.
Hunger should not be viewed as an emergency either. Just sit with the discomfort for a while and listen to your body before reacting.

Sense of Satisfaction
When we eat more slowly, our bodies are able to respond to food in a more natural and efficient manner. Our brain and digestive systems have enough time to respond to the food, and can act in an appropriate manner allowing us to optimize the nutrients of the food we consume. The result ­we feel more satisfied, with less food! Smaller portion sizes without even trying.

Mindfulness and Awareness
One of the greatest benefits of eating slower is how much we learn about the foods we eat, how our bodies respond to them and the way we feel after. You begin to notice tastes, textures, and aromas more and gain more enjoyment out of each meal. You may realize some foods that you enjoyed in the moment as soon as it hits your taste buds ­ doesn’t make you feel well in the long term ­ indigestion, bloated, gassy.

The concepts of patience and awareness during a meal can be carried into other areas of our life. Slowing down and taking the time to breath sometimes is enough to help relieve stress in everyday situations.

Better Digestion
Eating slowly also prompts us to chew our food more. This inevitably leads to improved digestion as our stomach doesn’t have to break down large chunks of food.

Improved Hydration
This almost happens naturally as between bites of food we have more time to sip on water. This may seem like it does not add up but consider that this method has proven to be effective in controlling how much food we eat at each meal. Staying hydrated can signal to our brains that we are adequately filled. One reason may be because sometimes our signals for hunger, and thirst get mixed up.

Tips on Eating Mindfully

Take Five Deep Breaths
Before you dive into your meal or snack, take a moment to breath deeply five times. Nothing more. This will help you become more aware of what you are feeling at a deeper level. Constant daily stressors can have us reaching for junk food, or eating way too fast. By slowing down, you shift your brains into a more restful state, allowing yourself to witness your actions with more clarity.

Set a Timer
Each meal should last you about 15-­20 minutes, and preferably longer at larger meals such as dinner. This may seem like a long time but trust me, it does not seem long enough after practicing this habit for a few days as you grow accustomed of enjoying every bite of your food.

Notice and Name
This is technique that can be indispensable in your quest to achieving the body you want. All that’s required is an open mind and some patience. When you eat, notice how you feel during certain phases of the eating process such as chewing, the textures and the aromas also once you have swallowed the food. Then put a name to the feeling of what you noticed. For example:

The texture (notice) of the avocado is smooth and creamy (name) or;

15 minutes after I ate the avocado (notice) I felt very satisfied and fresh (name).

Choose High-fibre Foods
Foods higher in fibre require more time to chew, and digest much slower - leading to a natural outcome of us eating more slowly. Vegetables, fruits, legumes, lean proteins, and whole grains are great places to start.

Find Other Slow Eaters
When we surround ourselves with like minded people, we are more likely to have an easier transition into building new habits, and following them consistently.

Make Time to Eat
Failing to plan is planning to fail. When we eat because we are in a rush there is a higher chance of eating more quickly and mindlessly. If the meal is planned, it gives us more of a chance to slow down and appreciate it.

Use Smaller Plates
We tend to eat more when our plates are larger. By using a smaller plate, we eat less calories at each meal, and it makes us conserve our meal. After all, why not savour what’s in front of you and feel satisfied ­helping you reach your goals, ­instead of chowing down quickly and then wanting more?

Eat with Minimal Distractions
Often when we eat with distractions such as TV, texting, or driving, our mind loses it’s sense of control from running so many tasks. It’s like when your computer slows down when you have too many programs running in the background. There is no such thing as a good (mindful) multi­tasker. As soon as we multi­task, that means our attention is divided.

Set a Minimum Number of Chews Per Bite
You may have heard of this piece of advice before. It’s actually good advice considering how much conflicting information there is in regards to nutrition these days. This is one thing you can follow confidently, rest assured.

The reason this works so well is because it consciously forces you to slow down. This helps you focus and become aware of a foods many qualities, and the process of chewing your food helps you to improve digestion and absorption of the food - leading to a greater overall sense of satisfaction.

The goal is to learn about your body. Take your time, and don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to use every suggested strategy at once. Pick one that fits your needs best, and run with it.

Eat mindfully and watch your health, mind, and body improve.

Thank you for reading my article. I hope you found it helpful or at least thought-provoking. If this post did help you, consider sharing it with someone you think it would help too.