You’re always on the go—so much so downing your dinner while standing may seem like an excellent way to save time and keep your energy soaring.
Think again: the “may seem” here is critical. Standing while eating might not only cost you more calories than you set out to consume—Canadian researchers found that eating on your feet resulted in ingesting 30 percent more calories than those who took the time to sit down to dine—but it can also wreak havoc on your digestion (and actually force you to lose time in the future).
Here’s why you should honor your hunger properly with a sit-down meal—and four other effortless ways to eat mindfully.
1. Don’t stand while eating
Eating while lying down was standard, well, fare for Ancient Romans and Greeks, but the modern habit of eating while standing may be just as taxing on your tummy. True, standing in general encourages greater energy expenditure, but this is the one time when you should make a point to grab a seat: A mere glance at our physiology suggests that we digest our food best when we’re in a relaxed state, which is hard to accomplish when we’re eating a spinach wrap while standing over the kitchen sink and scrolling through our Instagram.
Indeed, standing and eating is far from a tranquil experience (at least for most), and the impact it could have on digestion is compounded by wolfing down your meal in an effort to expedite the process. Digestion, after all, begins with chewing, and, as reporter Mike Roussell says, “research shows that chowing more leisurely allows your body to pre-release insulin in order to minimize total insulin release and maximize your blood sugar control.”
What’s more, racing through your meal could cause you to swallow a surplus of air, which may lead to gas and bloating. Spare 15 to 20 minutes for an appropriate eating posture; save yourself hours (and years) on possible digestive issues? It’s a no-brainer.
2. Break out your best china
Or, rather, just take a plate out of your kitchen cabinet: A large part of eating mindfully for optimum health begins and ends with being aware of what you’re consuming—and how much. Too often a snack—even a smart one like cashews or grapes—can go from healthy to overindulgent because you’re not cognizant of the amount you’re munching. Placing your food on a dish allows you to keep an eye on portion sizes; it can also make an everyday snack feel decadent.
3. Close your eyes
At least for a minute: One of the savviest ways to control weight, encourage nutrient-absorption and bolster peak digestion is to pay attention to the entirety of the eating experience. As the Mayo Clinic reports, distractions—those emails on your laptop’s screen, that news article you’ve been meaning to finish, that TV show that’s running in the background—keep you from wholly reaping the benefits of nourishment. Slow down and savor the textures and tastes of your food—and, more importantly, how each bite makes you feel.
Sound foreign—and daunting? Assign yourself the task of “the raisin experiment.” Based on a popular tool for learning how to eat mindfully, the charge here is to explore the flavor, feel, aroma and experience of eating a single raisin—even noting how it feels as it moves down your esophagus. The lesson is valuable: Pay attention to the present, and you’ll likely find yourself eating just the right amount (and feeling truly satiated in the process).
4. Listen in
Some researchers believe that we begin to lose touch with our natural hunger cues around five years old, which is typically our induction to the education system and the specific times that are designated for eating. While this may be a sage way to teach children the importance of setting aside time expressly for eating, it—coupled with the deprivation that might occur later in life when you start dieting—can also cause you to disconnect from your internal cues, which help tell you when you’re hungry, thirsty or tired (for more on this, read this article on how to tell the difference between hunger, thirst and other feelings)—and also when you’re full, sated or still hungry.
By tuning into your body, you’ll discover precisely when, how much—and what—you really need. There’s no better strategy for keeping your weight in check, your digestion on track, and your brain happy.
5. Take the “I” out of the experience of eating
One of wisest pieces of advice I’ve heard in relation to mindful eating is to spend a week observing your eating habits. This is not to build (or exacerbate) judgement around your diet and eating customs—indeed, that should be avoided completely for this experiment—but to see what you’re actually doing. Does breakfast tend to be tossed into your Vitamix and then downed in a single swallow behind the wheel? Is lunch typically Thai leftovers consumed cold at your desk between meetings? Is that after-dinner snack stemming from hunger—or is it boredom, loneliness, or the blues?
The first step towards eating with care and awareness is to get an idea of where there’s room to make smart, savvy changes—a decision that’s best done while sitting in your favorite chair.