Be mindful: Eating too fast can lead to weight gain

DO you gobble on the go, eat standing up, hoover up a sandwich at lunchtime, all while checking your emails? Yes, yes and yes? The irony of the obesity epidemic is that we might be eating more, but we are taking less time to do so.

Be mindful: Eating too fast can lead to weight gain

The latest results from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that Americans spend just over an hour eating a day – that includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and all those sneaky snacks.

Here, there are no neat statistics so why not time yourself? It could be your own personal experiment in mindful eating.

The buzz about mindful eating is not just for celebs such as Oprah, Gwyneth Paltrow and Goldie Hawn who are all devotees.

It’s not just a gimmick either, though there are any number of gadgets to help you monitor every bite you take. Swedish health-care company Mando Group AB, has developed a talking plate that shouts out “Please eat more slowly” if you start wolfing down your food.

It will set you back almost €2,000, but if it does get you into the habit of eating more slowly, it could be money well-spent.

Earlier this year, a Europe-wide study cited in the Journal of Paediatrics found that eating while watching TV can cause weight gain in children. For adults, studies have shown that eating too fast can lead to weight gain as well as digestive issues such as gas, bloating and stomach pain.

Research on mindful eating has consistently shown a series of benefits: being aware of what we are eating reduces the risk of obesity, improves our sense of satiety and can improve digestion.

Nutritionist Deirdre Kavanagh adds to that list, explaining that it can give people a real sense of peace around food and help them banish the idea of a ‘good food’/‘bad food’ list.

Mindful eating is an anti-diet, she tells Feelgood. “It’s not about counting calories. It’s about listening to the signals that our bodies are giving us. Usually we don’t listen to our bodies until they are screaming at us.”

That means we often vacillate between two opposing states –being really hungry or being really stuffed.

When we are really hungry, we’re more inclined to gulp food and overeat. It takes up to 30 minutes for the brain to tell the body that it full, though we seldom allow time for that message to register.

On her mindful eating workshops and retreats, Deirdre Kavanagh trains people to recognise when they need to eat and when they need to stop.

She also shifts the focus away from denial. Mindfulness, she says, is the art of allowing. Once you deny yourself a food, you will crave it.

The change in approach can be a real breakthrough, she says. “It allows people to throw away the diet plan and trust their own body. Mindful eating is a hugely beneficial practice,” she says.

But it takes commitment and practice. It also means asking yourself if you eat to calm your emotions.

“Mindful eating is about coming back to yourself. You can learn other ways of dealing with emotions. It’s important that you name the emotion and sit with it. You might need a hug, a good cry or to exercise. The answer is never going to be food,” Kavanagh says.

The best thing about eating mindfully is that you can try it right now in the comfort of your own home.

Something as simple as one square of chocolate can bring about a huge shift in awareness, says Kavanagh, explaining how workshop participants were amazed that they didn’t want any more after bringing all their attention to one square’s sweetness, texture and taste.

Here are some of her tips to help you get started:

* Take 30 seconds to tune into yourself before you start your meal.

* Ask yourself, ’Am I hungry? How hungry am I?’

* Take a mindful bite, putting down the cutlery or the sandwich between bites.

* If you feel you don’t have time to eat an entire meal mindfully, take at least three to five mindful bites per meal.

* Half fill your dinner or lunch plate. Finish it, pause and then go back for more if you are still hungry.

* Don’t ever feel compelled to clear the plate.

Snack attack

ONCE you learn how to pronounce quinoa (keen-wah), you have to figure out what to do with it. Here’s an idea from specialist quinoa company, Quinola Mothergrain, for a healthy snack: quinola cashew truffles.

You’ll need 1/2 cup quinoa, uncooked; 2 tbsp maple syrup; 1 and a 1/2 tbsp cacao powder (plus extra for dusting); 1 tsp of coco nibs; a handful of chopped cashew nuts and walnuts; 3 tbsp cashew nut butter.

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl using your hands. When mixed thoroughly, roll the mixture into golf-ball-sized balls and dust lightly with cocoa powder. Put them on a tray and pop them into the fridge for a couple of hours or until the truffles are set. Then eat without guilt.

Ingredient exposé

HOW many ingredients go into a McDonald’s chicken nugget?

You’ll find the answer in a fascinating new book Ingredients: A Visual Exploration Of 75 Additives & 25 Food Products by photographer Dwight Eschliman and food writer Steve Ettlinger who have deconstructed a range of everyday foods from Doritos to wholemeal bread to show what they are made of.

For the record, McDonald’s chicken nuggets have 40 ingredients, Doritos had 17 and Oroweat multi-grain bread had 30.

Binge alert

YOU don’t need a scientific study to know that gorging on junk food is bad for you, but a new report shows that bingeing on even one high-calorie snack can trigger metabolic disease, which increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

A study in this month’s FASEB journal (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) found that short periods of overeating have negative consequences.

“Eating junk food is one of those situations where our brains say ‘yes’ and our bodies say ‘no,’” said Gerald Weissmann of the FASEB Journal. “Unfortunately for us, this report shows that we need to use our brains and listen to our bodies.”

Bone up

DIET and exercise can be hugely beneficial to the 50% of Irish women over 55 who are suffering from osteoporosis or its precursor osteopenia. A bone health workshop run by Glenville Nutrition last week outlined the importance of a balanced diet along with regular exercise.

Nutritionist Heather Leeson said one of the biggest mistakes women make is looking to dairy to provide all of their calcium needs. She said it was important to get calcium from lots of different sources, such as chia seeds, broccoli, watercress, sardines and tinned salmon.

More in this section