The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - BODY MIND -

Sit com­fort­ably and in a re­laxed, up­right po­si­tion: not perched on the arm of a chair, or hunched over the plate ready to shovel food in. Many of us lean into our plates, keep­ing our heads down, wolf­ing down food as a way of avoid­ance or be­cause we’re stressed about how lit­tle time we have.

Take a few breaths be­fore eat­ing and be­tween mouth­fuls: what­ever emo­tional bag­gage we bring to each meal, it’s im­por­tant to take a few breaths to trig­ger our body’s re­lax­ation re­sponse.

Take a mo­ment to con­sider what’s in front of you: if we take a few sec­onds to look at our food and smell it, then we can re­ally start to think about how hun­gry we are. Per­haps we’re thirsty rather than hun­gry? Maybe try drink­ing some wa­ter first – maybe that helps to fill us up.

Be aware of what you choose to eat first and why: the way in which we tackle the food on our plates is in­ter­est­ing psy­cho­log­i­cally and may dic­tate the amount you have un­con­sciously pro­grammed your­self to con­sume. Do you tend to be­gin with the food you like best or do you leave it to last? Try start­ing with the best bits and see if that makes you less in­clined to fin­ish your meal.

Eat slowly: once we be­gin, it helps to slow down, be­ing sure to taste ev­ery mouth­ful and en­joy its tex­ture and sub­tleties as we chew. Some peo­ple eat quickly be­cause they feel so em­bar­rassed about their weight that they don’t like to be seen eat­ing, and so bolt their food to get through what is no longer a plea­sur­able ex­pe­ri­ence. If the food on the ta­ble was some­thing to be com­peted for, say, in a large fam­ily or at board­ing school, then we may wolf it down so quickly that we don’t even know we’re sated, be­cause the 10 min­utes it took us to devour the meal is still 10 min­utes short of the mo­ment the stom­ach in­forms the brain that we’ve had enough.

Try not to overeat with each mouth­ful: putting a lot of food in our mouth all at once can bring a sense of com­fort and reassurance, but it isn’t healthy as it can en­cour­age us to eat still more. Only when we breathe nor­mally, eat less at a time, and de­cel­er­ate can we di­gest prop­erly.

Don’t an­tic­i­pate your next mouth­ful: one of the clever­est tricks to slow down your eat­ing is to never load up a fork for the next mouth­ful un­til you’ve fin­ished the one you’re eat­ing. The sight of the loaded fork wait­ing for us be­comes a tan­ta­lis­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal in­cen­tive to guz­zle ev­ery­thing even faster. If you put down your cut­lery be­tween ev­ery mouth­ful, this doesn’t hap­pen. Use that pause to look up and en­gage in con­ver­sa­tion, read some­thing, or watch the tele­vi­sion.

Re­assess your hunger through­out each meal: only by tak­ing reg­u­lar pauses can we re-eval­u­ate how hun­gry we are, ask­ing our­selves: “Am I still en­joy­ing this? Have I had enough now?” Only if the an­swer is yes can you com­mit to fully en­joy­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Stop when you are full: there is a com­pul­sion to fin­ish ev­ery­thing on our plates. If our par­ents grew up in trou­bled times then it might have been drummed into us from an early age to al­ways eat ev­ery­thing on our plate, even if we are full. sage has to my own life. Im­mod­er­a­tion isn’t my prob­lem, rather the op­po­site. I’m too hard on my­self when I overindulge, or don’t ex­er­cise. I be­rate my­self and feel anx­ious. With the well-be­ing boom of re­cent years, I won­der if Ta­hon has seen an in­crease in over­con­trolled as op­posed to un­der-con­trolled eat­ing?

“Orthorexia [an ob­ses­sion with eat­ing healthy food] is a big thing at the mo­ment. Peo­ple want to make sure they are eat­ing the right food, that they’re eat­ing or­ganic, that they’re ex­er­cis­ing and that they have an amaz­ing body,” says Ta­hon. “I see so many peo­ple go­ing to the gym and hat­ing it, or com­par­ing them­selves with oth­ers who are slim­mer. We are so un­fair on our­selves.”

If striv­ing to­wards im­pos­si­ble stan­dards has the same dele­te­ri­ous ef­fect on our hap­pi­ness as over-eat­ing and un­der-ex­er­cis­ing, what’s to be done?

“The thing is to be able to eat freely and ex­press your emo­tions freely,” says Ta­hon. When we do this, we can un­leash pow­er­ful change in our lives.

He says many of his clients think that be­ing slim again will open the door to a new life “but, in truth, it is by wel­com­ing new projects into our lives that we em­power our­selves to be happy with the body we have”.

For one client, Sue, it was start­ing a new busi­ness at a time in her life when her chil­dren had left home and she lacked pur­pose.

For Ta­hon, his own ex­pe­ri­ence led to him di­vorc­ing his wife (al­though they re­main close friends) and chang­ing his ca­reer. Sim­i­larly, one of his clients lost 25 ki­los and her mar­riage ended. Through ther­apy, she dis­cov­ered that her hus­band had se­cretly en­joyed tak­ing the moral high ground over her weight is­sues and felt threat­ened by her new sex­ual at­trac­tive­ness. The is­sues had al­ways been there, but it took her weight loss to fi­nally ex­pose them.

How­ever, Ta­hon cautions against knee-jerk re­ac­tions when the penny drops about what is re­ally fu­elling our un­healthy re­la­tion­ships with food.

“If you act too quickly, then the changes you’re go­ing to make aren’t go­ing to be the right ones. If you think your toxic re­la­tion­ship is why you’re putting on weight, don’t just end it. You are partly re­spon­si­ble for the state of that re­la­tion­ship. What can you change to­gether? It’s about com­mu­ni­cat­ing without blame.”

Change is scary. And at the start of the new year we can end up pil­ing pres­sure on our­selves to trans­form our lives. Ta­hon says it’s fine to take your time. “It’s hard hav­ing to con­front that a re­la­tion­ship, your job, or the past, isn’t mak­ing you happy,” he says. “You might not be ready.”

No­body needs an­other rea­son to feel guilty, so if you’re think­ing of go­ing on a diet this Jan­uary, per­haps the kind­est thing you can do is to try some­thing new. Try join­ing a singing class, a knit­ting cir­cle or an art class, says Ta­hon. “Food can be an an­chor, a good friend. But if you’re feel­ing empty, there are plenty of other ways you can try to fill your­self up.”

UN­DER­STAND THE REA­SONS Philippe Ta­hon, above and right, says a deep sense of so­cial un­ease caused him to overeat

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