In Session with Debbie: Slowing Down

This week, my client, Theresa told me that she was having trouble controlling portions at dinnertime.  I asked her to describe what specifically was happening in the evening, and she told me that often she would finish her planned meal, feel unsatisfied, and then go back and eat more. I asked Theresa if she was taking the time at dinner to eat slowly and really enjoy every bite that she took, and Theresa answered that she wasn’t. She told me that she often sat down to dinner right when she got home and then proceeded to eat very quickly.

I discussed with Theresa that there is a difference between feeling physically satisfied after eating and feeling psychologically satisfied. Because Theresa was planning a reasonable dinner, she likely felt physically satisfied after eating (once her stomach and brain registered satiety), but because she was eating too quickly and not paying enough attention to her food, what she was really lacking was psychological satisfaction. Because of this, we knew that what Theresa didn’t need was to plan more food; rather, what she did need was to get more enjoyment from the food she was eating.

Mindful Eating

Theresa and I came up with a plan for how she would get more psychological satisfaction from dinner. The first part of the plan involved not sitting down to dinner right away because if she did, it often meant she was still in work mode, and work mode was fast-paced and unrelaxed. Theresa decided that as a rule she would change out of her work clothes and spend at least 10 minutes doing some type of relaxing activity before she would put a single bite of food in her mouth, no matter how hungry she was.  Doing so would allow her to transition from work mode to home mode, which would enable her to enjoy her food more.

The next part of the plan involved Theresa slowing down and really taking the time to enjoy what she was eating so that she could maximize physical and psychological satisfaction.  Theresa decided that, before sitting down to dinner, the first thing she would do is read a Response Card that reminded her of the importance of eating slowly and mindfully.  She also made a commitment to not put a new bite of food on her fork until she swallowed the bite she was eating – which would enable her to pay attention to what she was currently eating as opposed to having her attention be on what she was eating next.  Then we discussed a number of strategies she could try to help her slow down:

  1. She could try eating a few meals with her non-dominant hand, just to help knock her out of her fast-eating habit.
  2. She could eat dinner with chopsticks, which would force her to slow down.
  3. She could take sips of water in between each bite.
  4. She could set a timer to go off every few minutes and each time it went off, she had to take a small break from eating.
  5. She could change something in her eating environment, like get a new plate or a new placemat, or place a vase of flowers on the table. Each time she noticed the change, she would use it as a cue to slow down.
  6. She could pretend she was a food critic and that after the meal she would have to describe, in detail, the taste and texture of what she ate.

With these strategies in place, Theresa felt committed to slowing down and really savoring dinner.

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