As a child, you may remember your parents telling you to chew your food well and eat slowly. But have you ever wondered why this is so important?
There are many reasons to slow down when you’re eating, including that it may help you to lose weight! But with the technology at our fingertips, remote work, and streaming platforms helping us stay glued to our screens, our eating habits may not always be the most mindful.
You may find yourself multitasking, sending an email while eating lunch, or watching your favorite Netflix show while you eat dinner. And that distracting eating can mean you’re eating at a quicker pace or eating a larger amount of food than you would if you focused more on your plate.
So, how can you ensure you’re practicing healthy eating habits? And how do we know whether eating slower has any benefits at all? We’ll take you through the benefits of mindful eating and then conduct an experiment with the help of a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to see how your eating speed can impact your blood sugar levels.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is a concept that originated in Zen Buddhism and focuses on being more present in the moment while you consume each meal. Similarly to the practice of mindfulness, mindful eating seeks to teach patience, awareness, and trust.
You can practice mindful eating in various ways. But the basic principle is focusing on the food and mind-body connection. It can involve intuitive eating or listening to your body and eating when hungry, as well as eating slowly to enjoy and savor your food.
For some, mindful eating can even mean eating nutritious whole foods and being aware of the environmental impact of your dietary choices.
While this practice may not be practical for everyone, incorporating some aspects of mindful eating into your lifestyle when it comes to food and your diet may have some wellness benefits.
3 Benefits of Mindful Eating for Your Health
Eating slowly can have many wellness benefits, affecting everything from digestion to weight loss. Here are some potential benefits of mindful eating.
It May Help with Weight Loss
Do slow eaters have a better chance of avoiding weight gain? Maybe! One of the most significant benefits linked to slow eating is weight loss.
It makes sense—you’ve likely heard that when you’re eating slower, you may eat less because you give your body enough time to realize when it’s full, so you consume fewer calories automatically. It turns out that’s quite true, as studies have shown that taking time to chew slowly, savor your food, and drink water with your meal may all help contribute to higher feelings of fullness.
But it’s not just eating less food that contributes here. When you’re eating too fast, you may also not be chewing your food enough. And increased chewing has also been associated with a lower risk for obesity. Other research conducted on a group of children also found that those who chewed their food more thoroughly tended to have lower body mass index or BMIs.
It Can Impact Blood Sugar
Mindful eating may also help support a healthy glucose response. One recent study found that eating speed correlated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It can also be a precursor to metabolic syndrome.In a study on individuals with obesity, those who followed a mindful eating plan saw stable fasting glucose values compared to the control group, who continued to eat normally. Both studies report that further research may be necessary to fully understand the impact of eating speed on glycemic control.
It Can Support Better Digestion
Studies have linked chronic stress to worsened symptoms of GI conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome. Mindfulness and mindful eating have been studied for their benefits on digestion and potential effects on the nervous system.If you’re someone who experiences issues with digestion, mindful and slow eating practices that can help lower stress levels may be one way to treat unpleasant symptoms.
6 Tips for Mindful Eating
As you can see, there does appear to be a link between eating speed and blood sugar levels. Regulating your blood sugar levels can also help you reduce your risk for other adverse health conditions such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and obesity.
Here are six tips to help you practice mindful eating for your health.
1) Chew Slowly and Thoroughly
One study even indicated that chewing could increase diet-induced thermogenesis. The same study also found that increased chewing may even help with body weight, reducing the risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome.
Though more research is needed to confirm these findings, chewing appears to have several positive health effects. And as we mentioned above, it may even support weight management or weight loss.
2) Pay Attention to Cutlery
Similarly to chewing food thoroughly, putting down your fork and knife in between bites is another tip that can help you practice mindful behavior. Putting your utensils down can help you remember to chew fully and savor each bite of food.
Interestingly, some research has also shown that the type of cutlery you use when eating may impact eating speed. In one study, people who ate with spoons appeared to be more likely to be fast eaters and even have a higher BMI.
3) Drink Water
As it turns out, drinking water before eating can also help you swallow food and may even increase your feelings of satiety. Staying hydrated and getting plenty of fluids throughout the day have links to a number of other health benefits, such as improved cognitive function, better digestion, and kidney function.
4) Eat Without Distractions
Enjoying a meal without distractions, such as watching TV or scrolling through social media, may benefit weight loss or weight management. Studies show that eating a meal while watching TV can lead to poor diet quality and may increase the risk of obesity in children.
In another meta-analysis on distracted eating, researchers found that attentive eating with limited distractions was likely to influence overall calorie intake. Try turning off your TV and leaving your phone in another room the next time you eat a meal.
5) Watch your Portion Sizes
Taking care to serve proper portions based on your nutritional goals can also help facilitate mindful eating. You are less likely to consume excess calories when you don't over-serve yourself.
6) Consider Meal Timing
It can be hard to practice mindful eating when you’ve gone without eating for several hours. Eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day may be one way to reduce the risk of overeating.
Skipping meals may also lead to increased hunger in some people and make it harder to eat slowly when your next meal comes. While studies show that skipping meals can lead to reduced caloric intake, diet quality worsens in individuals who skip meals.
Remember, none of these tips are one-size-fits-all, and what works for you may not work for someone else. Since nutrition, fat burning, weight loss, and healthy lifestyle habits are so individualized; it’s a good idea to speak with a dietitian or health practitioner to find what works best for you.
How Does Mindful Eating Affect Blood Sugar?
To see how these mindful eating practices can impact blood sugar levels, Nutrisense health writer Natalie Krafft decided to conduct an experiment with her CGM. Natalie consumed the same meal for lunch two days in a row, made up of complex carbohydrates, protein, and fiber.
She prepared each meal from scratch around the same time of day. Here’s what she ate:
Pasta Bowl Ingredients
- 75 grams dried whole wheat Penne pasta
- 100 grams tempeh
- ¼ small onion
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- Handful of spinach
- ⅓ cup canned tomato sauce
Natalie prepared her vegetarian pasta bowl and ate it at her normal pace, which tends to be quite fast. She finished eating within about seven minutes.
Two hours after lunch, she scanned her CGM and found that her postprandial blood sugar had spiked to 128. The graph below shows her blood sugar curve spike before slowly returning to baseline levels.
Thoughts From a Nutrisense Dietitian
Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN, shares: “When we take a look at Natalie’s meal response here, I like to look at a couple of areas we can see in the data breakdown on her meal card:
- The Delta value. Delta is the difference between the lowest and highest values during the two-hour window after a meal is logged. We are aiming for a goal of 30 or less.
- The AUC value. AUC is the area under the curve or the extent of “exposure” to a given level of glucose. Here we are aiming for a value of 25 or less.
“Each of these offers insight into our meal glucose response. At this meal, Natalie’s Delta was 34 and AUC 37.3—both just a little higher than might be ideal! Her peak wasn’t bad though, as it leveled off right around 128, which is still well within our goal range of less than 140.”
The next day, Natalie prepared the same meal. This time, she followed some of the mindful eating practices described above and took the time to chew and swallow each bite thoroughly. She put down her cutlery between bites and took time to enjoy the dish, finishing it in about 25 minutes.
Two hours after she finished eating, she scanned her CGM and found that her postprandial levels had peaked at 103. It was a significant difference from the day before, and you can see a much smaller spike in her glucose curve.
Thoughts From a Nutrisense Dietitian
Heather says, “Comparing these two meal responses is really interesting. We can see that from the first meal to this second one, Natalie’s Delta has dropped from 34 to 21 and her AUC dropped from 37.3 to 19.3. This is a pretty significant difference!
Though the peak in her first meal was only 128, in this meal we see a further improvement, with the peak dropping to 103. Even though she ate the same meal at the same time of day and kept other factors (like physical activity, etc) as consistent as possible in both examples, we see some fascinating differences in her glucose response corresponding to changes in eating style and her mindfulness approach.
The results of this experiment do appear to suggest a connection between mindful eating and glycemic response. However, it’s important to note that glucose levels may vary greatly depending on factors such as the type of food you eat, stress levels, or physical activity.”
Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense
Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.
With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.
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Heather has worked in healthcare and nutrition for over 15 years, with bachelor's degrees in Microbiology and Philosophy and a master's degree in Nutrition Science. Her professional background includes nutrition and diabetes research, nutrition education, medical writing, and extensive clinical work in a functional neuroendocrine specialty practice.