These 2 Habits Will Make You Lose Weight Without Dieting
For as long as I can remember, I have been dissatisfied with my weight. I have always wanted to lose a few more pounds or shave a few more inches off my waistline. I have constantly been in search of the magic diet that will make me the perfect size “skinny” that I dream about.
Gradually, after many years of trial and error, I began to see a bigger picture. I have learned that health is far more important than my dress size. And I have learned that how I feel about myself is not determined by the number on a scale. And although, I’m still not always happy with the body I see in the mirror, I am slowly learning that accepting and loving whatever image I see reflect back at me is more transformational than shedding a few pounds. Part of this realization is due to two habits I learned that helped me change my relationship to food and eating.
Two years ago, I joined an online nutrition coaching program called Precision Nutrition. It was a year long and provided a holistic approach to nutrition and fitness, teaching practical, useful ways to integrate better habits into my life. Each week, I got a short lesson on some aspect of health and fitness and every two weeks I was given a new habit to work on for that allotted time.
The two most valuable lessons that were taught were the following two simple practices that had nothing to do with what to eat but rather with how to eat. They are simple in theory, but prove challenging in practice. I still work at applying them to each meal I eat. Some days are more successful than others. But when I am successful, I feel more energized, more satisfied, and better able to maintain or lose weight (depending on my goals at the moment).
These habits help you to pay attention to your meals, your eating habits and your hunger cues. They have made a profound difference in my own life. They have helped me eat smaller meals, reduced cravings, and taught me to appreciate and respect the energy and nutrition that food gives me.
Eat slowly. Simple, right? Until I actually tried slowing down my eating, I didn’t realize how quickly I ate. And now that I’ve been practicing for a couple of years, I really notice how quickly others eat and how easy it is to fall back to my old ways. Most of us, including myself if I’m not mindful, will scarf down our food, while scanning emails, watching television, or even standing at the counter in the kitchen. Many of us are often stuck at our desks for lunch or shoving breakfast in our mouths on our way to work. The rush to satiate ourselves has the unintended consequence of separating us from the act of eating and losing our innate sense of when to stop eating and notice when we are satisfied.
In today’s busy world, the act of eating slowly has become a luxury that most of have relinquished long ago. Most of you reading this, probably see it as an impossibility that you just can’t fit into your daily routine.
But what if I told you that eating slowly would reduce the amount of food you ate without feeling like you were depriving yourself? What if I told you that you could reduce food cravings and enjoy more constant and even energy levels throughout the day? Would you then consider that it might be worth finding the time to slow down to eat?
Here’s the thing. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal that you are full. If you are busy shoving that 1/2 pound burger in your mouth in ten minutes, by the time your brain catches up with you, you have gone way past the point of full and have burdened your stomach with far more food than it is capable of digesting properly. This is why taking your time, putting down your fork between bites, and taking some deep breaths during your pauses will help the digestion process and help you recognize when you are getting full.
Here’s how Precision Nutrition Coach, Brian St. Pierre describes the digestion process:
Think of digestion as a chain reaction. As soon as we see, smell, or think about food (step 1), we start salivating to prepare for putting that food in our mouth (step 2). Saliva contains enzymes that break the food down, and moistens the mouth for easier swallowing.
Meanwhile, digestive steps 3, 4, 5 etc. have to get ready to go to work. Our stomachs start to secrete more acid. Our small intestine starts to get ready for some peristalsis. And so forth.
If we rush this process, we force our GI tract to deal with stuff before it’s fully prepared.
Studies have shown that people who eat slower, eat less food. I know from my own practice, when I slow down and pay attention to my meal, I often stop eating before my plate is clean, feeling fully satisfied and satiated.
Another interesting study, revealed that women who ate faster and consumed more calories than slower eating women, reported feeling hungry an hour later, while the slower eaters were still satisfied from their lower calorie meals.
In other words, eating slow will help you eat less and keep you full for longer. And this comes before making any dietary changes or restrictions.
If you find any of this information compelling or even slightly curious, here’s how to to give it a try.
At your next meal, take a moment before picking up your fork.
Take 2 slow, deep breaths in and out.
Smell the food.
Look at the colors and appearance of the food.
Give thanks to the farmer who is responsible for growing and providing the food for you.
Then take a bite of the food and put your fork or spoon down and chew your food.
Chew for longer than you normally would. It will feel strange at first. But remind yourself that the smaller the pieces of food you swallow, the easier they will be to digest. This means you will feel satisfied longer because your body will actually be able to utilize the nutrients you are giving it.
Aim to make your meal last 20 minutes. This will be challenging at first.
I have found a helpful tool to assist in eating slower. There are smart phone apps that can be used to train you to eat slower. The one I use and love is called Waitplate Timer and it times your meal to last 20 minutes, taking one minute to chew your food followed by one minute of pausing. It offers tips on correcting posture, taking slow breaths, and chewing slowly and thoroughly during your meal to keep you on track.
This practice has been invaluable in helping me maintain my weight and gain control over my eating. Yet, even though I have been practicing for two years, I still get caught up in the rush of life and fall off the wagon. When I do, I notice my digestion is sluggish and I lose control of my eating. I end up eating too much and having feelings of regret after meals.
Rather than beating myself up, I aim to simply try again at my next meal.
Eat to 80% full
Eat to 80% full can sound a little ambiguous. I still struggle with determining exactly where 80% lies. But the exact percentage is not the point. The point with this habit is to stop eating before you are completely full. This habit takes some time because most of us have never really paid attention to the different levels of fullness that occur in eating. And as we’ve learned, it takes 20 minutes for our brains to catch up with our bellies and tell us we’re full so eating slowly is a prerequisite to this habit.
For me, eating to 80% full means that I am satisfied. My stomach feels content with no bulge or distention. I don’t feel stuffed or regretful for having eaten too much.
The struggle can come when my taste buds are still enjoying the food. Often I find that my stomach may tell me it’s nearing satisfaction, but my mouth is wanting more. Our brains evolved to crave food and consume as much as possible as a matter of survival. It was the brain’s way of preparing for scarcity. Though, this is no longer an issue, our brains haven’t yet caught up to the fact that food is everywhere.
So this is when I really have to pay attention to my food and the process of eating. Sometimes, it’s helpful to ask myself why I’m still eating if I am full. Habits around eating are complicated and multi-faceted. There are often psychological components that stem back many years and are so ingrained that we are oblivious to them. So be patient and kind with yourself. It’s easier to learn with an open heart and open mind.
I’ve also found it helpful to remind myself that the urge to eat won’t last forever. If I can bargain with myself to put the food away knowing that I can come back to it later if I still want it, usually that separation is enough to subdue the urge and allow it to pass.
Try it For Two Weeks
What makes these two habits so great is that they are practical and immediate. They don’t require any prep or set up time. You don’t have to prepare your kitchen or buy special foods like you do for a specific diet. You can literally start at your next meal.
Try stretching your meal to 20 minutes. See how close you get. If you’re done in ten minutes, you know you have some improvements make. But that’s okay, because you have another meal to eat in a few hours where you can practice again.
I suggest starting with eating slow for two weeks and then add in the eating to 80% full for the next two weeks. Look at it as an experiment.
Don’t judge yourself.
Just be curious and see what you learn about your eating habits. At the very least, you’ll learn how good your food can taste when you’re paying attention to it.
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