Mindful eating – the art of taking things slowly
How important is it to enjoy food?
Ronald Schweppe: We need to learn to enjoy things more often! I also believe the term “enjoyment” is often defined incorrectly. For a lot of people, it’s all about quantity. But real enjoyment focuses on the senses. It’s better to eat less, but to treat yourself to really special things.
• Always sit down to eat
• Ask yourself whether you are really hungry
• Take a deep breath before you reach for the cutlery
• Set aside double the time for mindful eating
• Turn off distractions such as phones, the radio or television
• Set down your cutlery after every bite
• Use all of your senses to discover your food: smell, consistency, temperature and taste
Learning to listen to your body means healthy eating can be achieved with no rules or calorie restrictions. Together with psychologist Aljoscha Long and nutritionist Dr. Julia Bollwein, author and motivational coach Ronald Schweppe founded the Institute for Mindful Eating (www.institut-für-achtsames-essen.de). He has also written a number of books on the subject. Here, Ronald Schweppe and Aljoscha Long explain why mindful eating is so important.
What does “mindful” mean?
Aljoscha Long: If you are mindful, you turn your attention deliberately to your innermost emotions. The question “what am I feeling right now?” is central. For example, when eating you can ask yourself “what is the consistency like?”, “what does the food feel like to chew” and “how does my tummy feel after eating?”
What’s most important?
Schweppe: The trick is to practice mindfulness again and again. Try to do so as often as possible. When somebody says to you “Think about your hand, is it cold, it is warm?” then you immediately enter a mindful state.
Any tips on how to start being mindful when eating?
Long: Initially, I would earmark three dates a week in my calendar. On these three dates, plan double the time you would normally take to eat. And then eat using all of your senses. Consciously look at your food, smell it, feel it, taste it. Just doing this is a great introduction.
What do you advise if somebody doesn’t have time to be mindful?
Long: You don’t have to mindful the whole time you are eating. My tip is to pay attention to the first five bites. That helps. And only ever do one thing at a time. When you read, you concentrate on what you are reading. So when you eat, concentrate on what you are eating.
Can this method help you to lose weight?
Schweppe: There’s a simple formula – the more you weigh, the more you can lose. It may be 20 to 30 kilos in some cases. Those who are underweight can also gain weight using the mindful method as you learn to be more in tune with your body. Ultimately, you can maintain a healthy weight that suits your body type.
Is there anything you shouldn’t eat?
Long: No, nothing at all! For some people this feels incredibly liberating to begin with. Whatever you eat, just remember to really savour it. Even if it’s a piece of cheesecake. Overeating soon becomes a thing of the past.
What are the differences to other diets?
Schweppe: Diets always impose rules that somebody else has dictated. Mindful eating is all about your body’s own feedback.
Why does mindful eating work so well?
Schweppe: Eating mindfully feels liberating because you become conscious of what’s not good for you. It’s not about counting calories or following rules. After a while, you’ll be able to taste the difference. Too much sugar in your coffee could put you off, for example.
What other effects are there of being mindful more often?
Long: A lot of people learn to embrace their own body shape, even if they don’t look like the models or celebrities in the media.
How does it work in canteens or restaurants?
Schweppe: You can use this method anywhere. However, food choices are often limited in a canteen. It’s easier to find something you like eating in a restaurant. It’s also more difficult to practice mindful eating in company as conversation can prove a distraction.
Are snacks allowed?
Schweppe: Chocolate and other snacks can also be eaten mindfully. If fact, mindful eating is especially helpful when it comes to snacking as we often snack when we are busy or on the go. Simply sitting down makes a huge difference. The need to constantly snack decreases, especially if you were previously distracted when eating.
Why do we sometimes binge on sweet or fatty foods?
Long: Stress sees women reach for sweet things, whereas men prefer hearty food. Eating is closely linked to our emotions. Mindfulness helps as it teaches us to understand our own feelings and what reactions they prompt. We often attempt to fill an emotional void using food. But the only thing we fill is our tummy. The void remains.