‘STOP WHEN YOU ARE FULL’: HOW TO EAT MORE MINDFULLY
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