The festive season is about to begin, and during this period many people experience the most weight gain throughout the year. Such weight gain is largely a result of overindulgence on alcohol, party foods, dinners, snacks and sweets during company events, family gatherings and social events.
In order to limit such weight gain, self-control and moderation are key. This is obviously easier said than done, and in many cases the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Temptation, greed and peer pressure are our downfall. But why is it that some people can maintain their weight during the festive season, while others just seem to pile on the kilos, which then stubbornly accumulate around the waist and hips region?
In principle, most people know what foods they should eat or avoid in order to eat healthily or lose weight. Eat more vegetables, avoid sugary and fatty foods and eat smaller portions. Simple principles that can produce great results. Nonetheless, the prevalence of overweight people is still on the increase. This shows that the problem is not lack of information, but compliance.
Somehow, subconsciously we choose to eat biscuits instead of an apple, nibble away at a bag of chips while watching TV, visit the fridge uncontrollably throughout the day when at home or keep refilling the plate after we’ve finished our food. The root problem is the control of the instinctive, subconscious part of our brain over our conscious, logic, decision-making part of the brain. We refer to this as mindlessness.
In contrast, mindful eating is the practice of being consciously present as you eat and focusing on the process of eating. It’s about giving your full attention and focus to the taste, smell and appearance of the food you are consuming, and the way it makes you feel. This may sound absurd at first glance, because you may think you do this anyway, but the majority of people are far away from what one might consider mindful eaters.
One example of mindless eating is the speed at which you eat. There is a strong correlation between the speed of eating and the degree of overweight. From my experience, probably more than 90% of overweight people eat way too fast. They just swallow the food without chewing properly and are usually one of the first to finish their food when sitting at table with other people. There is no way you can appreciate the various tastes of the food being chewed, it’s texture or its smell when you gobble down your food like that.
Mindful eating requires mental focus, or concentration. If you are eating whilst the TV is running, your smartphone is in your hand and you are conversing with another person, it becomes practically impossible to focus on your food. You may also find it difficult to dedicate concentration towards eating after a stressful day of work, and you would much rather just sit back, relax and reward your brain by downing your favourite snacks, coupled with a few glasses of wine while you watch your favourite TV series on Netflix. After all, food is rewarding to the brain, and highly palatable foods rich in sugar, salt or fat can give us a high, just as nicotine, alcohol and narcotics do. Mindful eating is therefore not as easy as you may think, as it requires you to be ‘in control’ most of the time, for all your life, if you really want this to work for you.
6 Mindfulness tricks to help you prevent weight gain
One of the main benefits of eating slowly is that it allows your body to recognise when you’re getting full. It takes about 20 minutes from the start of a meal for the brain to send out signals of satiety, in the form of satiety hormones. Many people, in contrast down their meal in just a few minutes! When your brain doesn’t register satiety, you keep eating, resulting in the consumption of way more calories. To prevent this, slow down your eating, savour the food, pay attention to its taste and texture, focus on chewing the food properly before swallowing, and put down your knife and fork every now and again. Comment on the meal’s taste, texture and smell to other people. They will appreciate the feedback!
Stop at 80% full
Once you can slow down your eating speed, it will be easier for you to feel the cues of satiety develop within. If you focus on this, you will be able to determine at what point you are not hungry anymore and stop eating before you are actually really full. Repeated practice of this will allow you to stop eating when 80% full.
Eat without distractions
Distractions make it difficult to focus on eating. Such distractions come from watching TV, answering emails or texting while eating, or eating on the go while upset or under stress. Here are few guidelines to minimise distractions:
Only eat when sitting at your dining table. Never eat on your sofa, on your bed or while moving around.
Turn off the TV when eating. It’s easier than it sounds.
Don’t work or text while eating.
Focus on eating slowly and on tasting your food.
When you feel the urge to snack, make a cup of tea first
Boredom, emotions and stress can lead to mindless snacking. Excessive snacking is a far greater reason for weight-gain than the food consumed at the main meals. If you get the cravings to snack, reflect on your real hunger, and make a cup to tea or coffee first. This may help to curb your cravings.
Wait before getting seconds
If you eat slowly and mindfully, you will think twice before going for second helpings. Your satiety hormones will kick in, and your conscious brain will analyse if you really need to eat more.
Control the greed
Buffets and dinner parties usually have a huge selection of food on display, and ‘greed’ and the wish to taste everything can take control of your eating behaviour. Before filling your plate, look at the food options, make a conscious choice of what foods you will eat, and then fill your plate accordingly. If you want to taste a selection of foods, keep the portions very small. Focus on taste and eat slowly!