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How to eat mindfully: ‘It can help not to finish everything on your plate. That’s very hard for a lot of people’

Take the time to appreciate what you’re eating and you might find you want less of it, says the cognitive behavioural therapist Susi Lodola

Toast in the car, a sandwich at the laptop, cereal in front of the telly — eating on autopilot has its downsides. When we eat too quickly and without paying attention, we are more likely to eat when we are not hungry, to eat bigger portions and to binge eat, says Susi Lodola, a cognitive behavioural therapist accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy.

How do I stop the cycle?

Mindful eating is about slowing things down. “It’s about pausing and being aware of the textures, flavours, colours and smells in your food,” says Lodola. This increases our awareness of the amount of food we eat and it helps us to tune into the signals from our bodies. “When you stop for a moment before you start to eat, you can identify what is going on. You can recognise whether you are experiencing physical hunger signs like a rumbling in your tummy or saliva in your mouth, or whether it is your emotions that are driving the eating.”

How do I eat mindfully?

Eat your meals sitting down and without distraction. Instead of grabbing a quick bite running out the door, make the time to sit and eat. “Just turn off the TV, put the phone away, sit somewhere quiet where you can focus on the food in front of you. It’s not always possible, but try to do it maybe once a day,” says Lodola.

Should I count the chews?

Some people go this route, but it’s up to you, says Lodola. “When you sit down, pause for a moment and take a few breaths. Look at the food in front of you, notice the shape and colour, and then take small bites and chew slowly,” says the therapist. “You can put your knife and fork down between bites and check in with yourself: am I still hungry, or am I just eating because it’s in front of me?

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“Sometimes it can help to leave a small amount of food on your plate instead of finishing everything. That’s actually very hard for a lot of people,” she says.

Challenge yourself

If you like a challenge, you could try “gamifying” the experience. “Try taking a small amount of food, the size of a raisin and try to get 10 bites out of it,” says Lodola. Then answer some questions after each bite: what does the food look like? What does it smell like? What does it taste like? “When you come to the seventh or eighth bite, it will taste totally different. All of a sudden you might go, I actually don’t like that, or you might find that you really like it,” she says. “What it shows is, I can actually get 10 bites out of this tiny piece of food, so imagine how much I can slow down when I am eating.”

What are the benefits?

Instead of just wolfing your food down, you might find you want less of it. “When you start to eat mindfully, all of a sudden you taste the really sugary food and it’s not really very nice,” says Lodola. “Also, your body is satisfied with less because it’s getting more sensation and more satisfaction from the food.” It takes about 20 minutes for our satiety signals to register, so eating slowly allows our bodies time to register when we are full, she says. Go ahead and eat the cake, just not at speed.

What about weight loss?

Weight loss isn’t necessarily the point of mindful eating, but losing weight can be a side effect. Those who eat mindfully give themselves the time to feel when they are full, so they eat less, says Lodola. “You will feel satisfied and less deprived because your senses are more tuned into tastes, smells and textures.” Those who eat slowly and mindfully are less likely to get bloated too.

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property, lifestyle, and personal finance