Early in treatment we teach our clients the skill of eating everything slowly and mindfully. For many people, this skill is critical because it helps them really slow down, notice what they’re eating, and take more accountability for every bite they put in their mouths because it forces them to not tune out while they’re eating.
Sometimes, when dieters first come to see us, they are actually doing the opposite of eating slowly and mindfully – meaning they may sit down in front of the television with a large bag of chips and eat them very quickly, without paying attention to how much they’re eating. For some dieters, this is almost a purposeful tuning-out, because it allows them to ignore the voice inside their heads that says, “You’re eating too much! What are you doing?” Dieters may also neglect to eat slowly and mindfully when they’re highly distracted while eating (doing work, talking with other people, etc.), when they feel really hungry and want to get food in their stomachs as quickly as possible, and when they’re feeling guilty about what they’re eating and want to finish quickly.
Our clients have observed a number of interesting things when they begin to work on eating slowly and mindfully. One client of mine, Kate, a busy lawyer, always ate a salad for lunch at her desk while she was working. When Kate and I worked on this skill and required that she take 15 minutes for lunch without doing any work, Kate was surprised to find out that different bites of salad tasted differently depending on what ingredients were on her fork. Previously, all bites had tasted the same to Kate because she hadn’t really tasted any of them.
Another client, Victor, really loves sweets and desserts. When he first came to see me he told me, “I never met a dessert I didn’t like!” When Victor started really focusing on the desserts that he ate, he was shocked to find that not all desserts were created equal and that there were some that he just didn’t care for, like caramel. “My whole life I always assumed I liked caramel because it was a sweet dessert. I never took the time to really taste it and question whether or not I liked it. Turns out, I don’t!”
Marissa, a mother of four, used to make a big dessert for her family every night because that’s what her mother did growing up. As it turns out, two of Marissa’s children lacked her sweet tooth and her husband had a take-it-or-leave-it approach to dessert. Because of this, Marissa would frequently end up eating a huge amount of dessert every night because nobody else was eating it. When Marissa and I worked on cutting down her portion to just one dessert every night and eating it slowly and mindfully, she truly came to realize that she enjoyed one brownie, eaten very slowly and with an emphasis on enjoying every bite, more than eating half a pan of brownies because when she was overeating them, she would eat huge bites as quickly as possible, without really tasting them.
Eating slowly and mindfully is a difficult skill for some people, and one that may require a lot of practice, but unquestionably the results of doing so are worth the extra work.