Mindful Eating vs. Dieting: Part one

Learn how mindful eating can be healthier than dieting by applying the principle of eating slower.

In the early 1900’s an art dealer named Horace Fletcher lost 42 pounds and improved his health by simply chewing his food slowly. Eating slowly is the focus of the first of seven guidelines from Dr. Jan Chozen Bays' book, “Mindful Eating – A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food.” Mindfulness is itself, a practice of slowing down and staying in the moment without judgment. Which is a stark contrast to dieting which is usually judgement-based and promotes abstinence from certain foods or caloric reduction.

There are many advantages to eating slowly. Some of our satisfaction in eating comes from chewing. Our mouth enjoys different textures such as crunchy, chewy and smooth. When we chew well, flavors continue to be released and more nutrients are released too. Another advantage to eating slowly is that chemical signals of satisfaction occur earlier. Following his dramatic weight loss, Horace Fletcher started a movement, soon called “Fletcherizing,” of chewing food at least 32 times until no more taste could be extracted.

Simply slowing down and being aware without judgment seems much easier than dieting (with the exception perhaps of “Fletcherizing”) until you actually physically try it. Reading Dr. Jan Chozen Bays' book makes you realize that the reasons people eat are a complex subject. 

In her book, she explains seven kinds of hunger and patterns of eating and how habits form. The book then explains how to unwind these patterns through six simple guidelines to become more mindful of the pleasures of eating. These six simple guidelines are:

  1. Slow it down
  2. Right amount
  3. The energy equation
  4. Mindful subtraction
  5. Out-of-sight-out-of-mind
  6. Loving-kindness and the inner critic

The first guideline of slowing down is the core of the mindfulness practice. Dr. Chozan states that eating quickly is an American pastime. Fast food restaurants are an American icon. In many Asian and European countries, it is considered shocking, rude and barbaric to eat fast. In other countries, a meal is ceremonial, a time to enjoy not just the food but the anticipation of the food and the company. To give the food and drink proper attention is to repay the appreciation of the people serving you. Repay by appreciating rather than with money. Fast food in other countries is generally take-out meals, meals that are picked up and taken home and put on plates and eaten with proper attention. 

Some other techniques to slow down your eating are to put down the utensils between bites, eat with your non-dominant hand or use chopsticks. When attempting to drink slowly, smell the drink first, swirl it around in your mouth and allow it to rest before swallowing and putting your glass or cup down between swallows can help too. 

Many articles, books and programs are available for both mindful eating and dieting. Both are researched and practiced and both have many impactful results, so the choice can be daunting. However, mindfulness truly is the basics of eating and getting back to listening and appreciating what our body is communicating to us, much like an infant instinctively does. So instead of dieting, try taking this first step of slowing down by paying attention to who is serving your food and what was done to get it to you. Really enjoy your food by being mindful of how many times you are chewing your food before swallowing it, maybe you will even reach 32.

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