Have you been noticing that sometimes you eat fast? No, no no, no, no. That’s not a reason to beat up on yourself and wish that you were different or didn’t do that. It’s just a question to think about without any judgment. I want to teach you a strategy that I created called Mindful and Gentle Eating. It will help you to slow down your eating so that you can enjoy your food more and feel satisfied eating less.
Full disclosure: I tend to be a very fast eater, myself. And for years I felt really shameful about it, until I realized that when I eat fast, it’s my body’s way of telling me that I have something else on my mind other than what’s on the plate in front of me. So I want to encourage you to think of your habit of faster eating as a message, nothing more…Seriously. Here’s a story of a time back around 2009 when I learned exactly that same lesson.
The message In my apple sauce
One day I woke up early, around 5:00 a.m., actually feeling hungry, or so I thought. For the past several months I had gotten into a comfortable pattern where I didn’t feel hungry or want to eat breakfast until about 11:30 a.m. Back in the days when I was dieting, that was absolutely unheard of; I was always starving as soon as I woke up. Now, especially if I’m busy, I can go for hours without the first glimmer of hunger.
Eating fast: Feeling pressured to move faster and be more productive
After deciding that I wanted something light, I chose applesauce and spooned a few spoonfuls into a dish. Feeling a bit pressured to get my day started and finally finish the editing on my book, I ate the first bite quickly with a kind of desperation. I didn’t even taste the applesauce. Then I realized that I was stressed about the book and this was showing up in a resurfacing of my old habit of eating fast.
Choosing to slow myself down by eating more mindfully
Separating myself from my feelings of urgency for a moment, I wondered what would happen if I ate the next bite more slowly. I noticed that my thoughts instantly changed and began to slow down. As I took another even more conscious spoonful, I noticed that the applesauce was much more tart than I would have liked. Curiosity rose up in me and I found myself thinking, “Why do I want this now? It’s not even that good. It’s been so long since I’ve had an early breakfast, why now and what does this applesauce remind me of?”
What does this food remind me of?
Then it hit me as I looked down at the dish. It was as though I had been transported back in time to my Nana’s kitchen long ago. In my memory, I was sitting at her sparkling white kitchen table contentedly surveying the apples we had picked together. They were strewn all over her counter top, and I imagined I smelled the wafting scent of the cinnamon soaked apples gently simmering on the stove top waiting to be made into fresh pies and apple sauce for the upcoming church bazaar.
As I continued to sit and stare into the dish of apple sauce, I went a bit deeper into the memory and could see the patterned wallpaper adorning the kitchen walls and feel the cool, hard flooring under my feet. In this lovely memory, I was sitting in my favorite chair looking across the small kitchen out the window at the magnificent view of the Hudson River and the New York City skyline. I watched cars cruising along the George Washington Bridge. I could even see my Nana, all smiles, as she stood at the stove in her frilly hand-sewn apron peeling and dicing the apples with her deft fingers moving so quickly. I could even make out the details of her wedding ring.
Caught up in my reverie, I had one more spoonful of applesauce and realized that I no longer wanted it. I took the rest and put it away for later. I knew that the applesauce had already done its job. It brought me back to a place where I remembered feeling such love and warmth and happiness.
Your cravings are for the emotions and the memories, not the food
Here’s the takeaway from this story. Different foods have different associations in your brain. This is why emotional eaters get cravings for certain foods. You are actually craving the emotion that the food holds from the memories that are connected to the food. If you are an emotional eater, food has more meanings and connections for you than people who don’t feel so attached to eating.
When you take an extra moment and linger over your food and ask yourself what it reminds you of, you are putting yourself in the position of being an observer. It’s like being able to unzip your skin and step out of your body and watch yourself from a distance. When you can do that, you are able to notice more because your vision is not clouded by emotion. When we eat unconsciously, we consume more food, because we don’t experience the satisfaction that comes from the enjoyment of food.
What my client, Linda discovered about food and feelings
Linda was one of my first Losing Weight without Dieting participants. Here is a story of her experience using the Mindful & Gentle Eating Strategy sharing an insight about how her appetite was affected by a recent memory of her brother.
One night Linda was eating supper and noticed that the food was nearly gone from her plate. After thinking about it, she realized that she had completely tuned out the whole experience of enjoying her dinner. She didn’t really even taste what she was eating because she was caught up having a mental argument with her brother who had passed away many years before.
In reality, Linda’s brother had no place on her dinner plate. And your problems have no place on yours. When you notice that your eating is out of control, there’s some valuable information there worth exploring. Your stress and overwrought emotions will make your appetite go haywire. You may notice these emotions as being actual thoughts or they may show up as just negative, disturbed, upset, angry feelings that you have in your body. Keep in mind that eating in response to pressure is a well-worn habit that is probably second nature to you. Like Linda, you may also be starting to become aware when you’re eating under pressure. Awareness is the first step to change.
In the quote above, Linda shares her experience with eating cake and how it changed using the Mindful and Gentle Eating Strategy combined with a permission-based approach to eating. You may choose to eat those foods that don’t taste as delicious as you may want them to, but one bite, one cookie or a muffin, or a single taste of whatever it is, will satisfy you in the same way that it used to take a dozen bites or more. When you extract the feeling from the food, the food just becomes food again. In some ways that’s really great, and in some ways it’s also very sad, but true.
Linda: “Now that I know I can eat as much as I want of something, makes me not even want it.”
Don’t get me wrong, you can still completely override this awareness and go back to unconscious eating again. You can choose to overeat those foods, but the difference is it is now a choice, rather than a must. You will learn that you can indeed control yourself, but you may not always want to and that’s fine, because it’s essential that you always go at your own pace.
What do you think of slowing down and noticing what you are reminded of when you eat your food? Who knows? Like me, it may change the flavor completely. You may need to just sit in silence for a few minutes and really let those memories seep into your soul, and enjoy knowing they will live in your heart forever.
Remember, it’s not the food you’re seeking, it’s the feeling. Go for the feelings. Notice them. Amazing things will come of it.
Interrupt the Pattern Of Emotional Eating: The Mindful and Gentle Eating Exercise
If you’re inclined to be a fast eater, like me, I know how hard it is for you to eat more slowly. Connirae Andreas, is one of the original co-developers of Neuro Linguistic Programming; a branch of psychology devoted to learning how to communicate with yourself and others. It’s like learning how to speak the language of your mind. Connirae explains that when we eat fast, it is a sign of compulsion that stems from a fear of lack.
Eating faster is not bad
Many non-diet weight loss programs advocate eating slowly as a means of breaking the compulsion that drives speed eating. I don’t agree with that. As a gal who has always eaten very fast, I resented it when anyone told me to eat slowly. The resistance you feel is that little survival part of you that refuses to be made to feel deprived ever again. I promise I won’t ever take anything away from you. My only desire is to add to what you already have and know. I always work with my clients and teach them new ideas by giving them experiences so they can create their own positive associations and remember what they learn. I’m not into telling people what to do and what not to do. In the next couple of weeks I’ll be selling the homestudy version of my Losing Weight without Dieting program. In 2005-2007, when I originally taught the program, I shared the following exercise with the women and encouraged them to try it as an experiment and make it fun. Then switch back to their usual pace of eating, and later notice the contrast between the faster and the slower paces and how it made them feel.
As I learned from my Neuro Linguistic Programming Master Practitioner training, it is easier and more effective to teach people a new habit by letting them experience it personally. That is why I want to encourage you to play around and experiment with the strategy. Switch going from faster eating to slower eating and see what happens. By doing this it gives you brain a chance to reorganize itself and find an intermediate speed that will become a new comfort level for you. There’s a lot of power in having choices.
Now, if you’re ready, let’s begin:
Try It! – Mindful and Gentle Eating
Choose to eat anything you want, it’s up to you. This exercise was created for my original Losing Weight without Dieting Program.
The goal of the exercise is to consciously slow down the pace of your eating. You may find it a challenge at first, later it will become a joy.
- Find five emotional food connections in your life that have in the past compelled you to eat when you were not hungry.
- What has that food meant to you?
- What memories rise to the surface when you think about the food?
- Go out and get that food and bring it home or prepare it.
Before you are ready to sit down and eat your chosen food, set your place with the appropriate silverware and a napkin (even if you are eating a pint of ice cream or a sandwich, make sure that you at least have a napkin). You don’t have to serve your food in a bowl or a plate unless you choose to do so.
- Bring your journal to the table.
- Have your silverware and optional plate or bowl ready along with your napkin.
- Place the food on the table.
- Sit down facing it.
- Look at it.
- Smell it.
- Be present with your feelings as they surface.
- Notice those feelings.
- Sit for a few moments and write down your observations of the food and your feelings connected to it.
- Close your journal.
- Pause and think for a moment, offering thanks for this food.
- Pick up your utensil.
- Take a small bite or spoonful.
- Place the food in your mouth and allow it to rest on the tip of your tongue.
- Swirl it around in your mouth for 3 to 7 seconds.
- Notice the sensations that come up for you.
- Slowly chew it or allow it to gently glide down your throat.
- Put down your fork or spoon and resist picking it up for a moment. If you have to sit on your hands, then do it.
- Just sit with those feelings for 10 -15 seconds.
- Repeat the process from stages l2-19 (shown above in bold type) until you are satisfied. Notice the degree of that satisfaction. Do this at least three times during the week. The rest of the times eat at your normal pace. See what you discover.
Are you looking for a bit of support. I know change is hard. And if you’re not used to treating yourself with more kindness,
it can feel so weird. But nothing but good can from you treating yourself with more respect. That’s why I want to invite you to join my
30 Days to Lovin’ the Skin You’re In Facebook group to connect with the other women there, and feel free to share your experiences
and insights using my Mindful and Gentle Eating exercise.