Conscious Eating: How to Eat with Awareness

Posted on Tuesday, April 27th, 2010
Written by: Angela, Nutritionist

Seattle Nutritionist Angela Pifer writes:

When was the last time you sat down and ate dinner without any distractions? It is rare that we’re simply eating when we’re eating. Meals have become yet another task we squeeze in during the day. In fact, 66 percent of Americans report regularly eating dinner in front of the television. Adults in the United States devote an average of nearly 35 hours to their TV each week. That is almost the equivalent to a full time job. We spend 1 hour and 12 minutes per day eating, yet spend 5 hours per day watching television. Our kids are feeling the effects as well. A new national study has linked obesity to excessive TV viewing, a lack of sleep and to a low frequency of family meals.  With obesity at epidemic proportions, it is essential that we take a closer look at not just what we eat, but how we eat.

‘Conscious eating,’ or eating with awareness, means savoring every mouthful. This enhances the experience of eating and keeps us aware of how much we take in. Studies have shown that when people are blindfolded while eating, they consume 30 percent less food and their meal lasts, on average, over 20 percent longer.

It may come as a big surprise to learn that ‘mindless eating,’ or eating without awareness, can have negative health consequences. Scientists are beginning to evaluate and better understand the complex role of the mind-body connection in eating behavior. It turns out that when our mind is tuned out during mealtime, the digestive process may be 30 percent to 40 percent less effective. This can contribute to digestive distress, such as gas, bloating and bowel irregularities.

Gas and bloating aside, overeating and obesity are perhaps the most significant health problems caused, at least in part, by mindless eating. The mind-body connection plays a pivotal role in our ability to accurately assess hunger and fullness.

Exploring Conscious Eating

Try this exercise with a friend. You will need one small slice of an apple for each person. One person reads the instructions listed below while the other person completes the exercise.

  1. Take one bite of an apple slice and then close your eyes. Hold the apple in your mouth and do not begin chewing yet.
  2. Try not to pay attention to the ideas running through your mind, just focus on the apple. Notice anything that comes to mind about taste, texture, temperature and sensation going on in your mouth.
  3. Begin chewing now. Chew slowly, just noticing what it feels like. It’s normal that your mind will want to wander off. If you notice you’re paying more attention to your thinking than to the chewing, just let go of the thought for the moment and come back to the chewing. Notice each tiny movement of your jaw.
  4. In these moments you may find yourself wanting to swallow the apple. See if you can stay present and notice the subtle transition from chewing to swallowing.
  5. As you prepare to swallow the apple, try to follow it moving toward the back of your tongue and into your throat. Swallow the apple, following it until you can no longer feel any sensation of the food remaining.
  6. Take a deep breath and exhale.

You may find it interesting to talk with your partner about your experience. What did you notice while chewing? Why did you swallow? Was the food no longer tasty? Did it dissolve? Were you bored?

The point of this exercise is not to suggest all your meals be consumed as meticulously as this experiment. Rather, by doing this exercise you may discover some things about your own eating habits. Some people find value in doing a shorter version of this exercise with the first bite of each meal. This helps set an intention of being mindful through the course of your meal. Try it and see what you discover!

Angela Pifer, MSN, CN Seattle Nutritionist

Seattle Weight Loss Programs – Get Results! Angela works locally as well as nationally through Skype

Categories: Developing Awareness

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