Mindful Eating: How You Eat is More Important than What You Eat

New research confirms the benefits of eating slowly—for your health and happiness. Here, three healthy eating habits you can start today.

In This Article

New Science on Slow Eating

According to Ayurveda, how you eat affects your digestion more than what you eat.

A new study published in the journal Pediatric Obesity supports this by showing that kids who eat quickly have an increased risk of childhood obesity compared to kids who eat slowly.

In this study, researchers found that kids who were less responsive to feeling full and disinterested in the taste and smell of food, or controlling the speed of eating were more prone to weight gain and cravings. Kids who were extroverted were also faster eaters and more prone to obesity.

Sadly, eating quickly does not only affect kids. Our eating behaviors are often engrained in us during our early years and adults who eat quickly and on the run are at risk, too. In another study (this one from 2006) with 3,737 adult men and 1,005 adult women, eating quickly was directly associated with an increased risk of obesity.

On the flip side, eating slowly is directly linked to balanced weight. In a 2019 study published in the journal Nutrients, 21 healthy 23-year-olds were randomly asked to consume a 600 kcal meal at either a normal or slow rate.

Slow eating is directly linked to consuming fewer calories when compared to eating quickly. In this study, the group that ate at a slow rate ate 25% less calories from snacks. Three hours after a meal, they felt more full and the amount of hunger hormone ghrelin was significantly less than it was in the other group.

See also The Science Behind Slow Eating

Ayurveda’s 3 Ways to Eat

According to Ayurveda, there are three mental and emotional states of mind called sattva (peaceful), rajas (stimulated), and tamas (withdrawn). These three mental states apply to all aspects of behavior, lifestyle,, and psychology. They also apply to how we eat and how food can guide us to a more peaceful state. Once again the science supports the ancient wisdom of eating slowly as a means to contentment, health, and wellness.

Eating Sattvically

Mealtime is one of the sattvic periods of the day, meaning that after a busy period of time at work or at play, eating provides time to still your nervous system—needed to properly digest food.

Relaxed, slow eating activates the parasympathetic, or rest-and-digest, nervous system, while eating on the run or eating quickly stimulates the sympathetic, or fight-or-flight, part of your nervous system and literally turns off your ability to digest well.

The Ayurvedic concept of sattva suggests that our lifestyles should be peaceful and in rhythm with nature.

Sattvic eating is calm, seated, relaxed, and enjoyable.

The mindset of sattvic eating is not to fill your tummy, or your tank, and get back on the road. Rather, it is to sit, relax, and enjoy the process of eating. True sattvic eating actually suggests that we become consciously aware of the subtleties of the food—it’s tastes, smells, and textures, and how it feels in the body while digesting it.

The post-digestive effect, or prabhava, of food delivers an energetic or subtle experience that can balance or unbalance your body type. Properly prepared foods in season and eaten slowly and mindfully can provoke joy. Does the way you eat allow you to go within? Does the food you eat motivate you to eat slowly and prolong the joy of eating?

See also Harness Sattva: 10 Steps to a Peaceful Ayurvedic Day

Eating Rajasically

Rajas is a mindset that links being satisfied with the stimulation of our senses.

Rajas depends on the release of the reward hormone dopamine to be satisfied with foods or in life. Rajasic eating requires strong stimulation, rather than appreciating subtle tastes. For example, cravings are rajasic and often satisfied with an overindulgence in sweet, salty, or spicy foods. Rajasic eating is typically fast and on the run and is linked to weight gain.

Eating Tamasically

Tamas is a mindset of withdrawal. Due to overstimulation from reward chemistry, trauma, drugs, or stimulants the nervous system in a tamasic state retreats from stress in order to protect and heal.

The behavior associated with tamas is withdrawing from conflict or stimulation. In a healthy way, getting deep rest to heal can be a tamasic behavior, but in an unhealthy way, drugs, alcohol, reclusiveness, and over eating are tamasic as well. Tamasic eaters tend to eat frequently and mindlessly. They are looking to food to calm and satisfy the mind and a depleted nervous system.

Therapeutic and Mindful Eating

Studies have show that eating slowly is one big step to managing weight, hunger, and cravings.

Here, three ways to bring mindfulness into you meals:

  1. Eat whole, organic foods when possible. Ayurvedically, eating slowly is also a time to connect with nature’s intelligence through food. When eating whole, organic food, you’re benefiting from the symbiotic relationship between the food and its beneficial microbes. According to Ayurveda, sattvic eating is the first step toward building a healthy body and a healthy microbiome.

See also Stanford Study Backs Seasonal Eating for the Healthiest Microbiome

  • Add ritual to mealtime. Mealtime is also a great way to incorporate ritual into your life. Next time you sit down to eat, make sure you’re calm. A ritual like saying grace can help set the stage for parasympathetic dominance and better digestion. Consider chewing every bite until there is no flavor left in that bite.

See also Grace Starts with Gratitude: The Benefits of Giving without Expectation

  • Move after meals. After you eat, take a 10-minute rest and then go for a walk. A post-meal walk has been shown to provide numerous heart health benefits. The worst thing we can do is eat a full meal and then sit for hours in the car of in front of a screen.

See also 4 Reasons You NEED to Move After Meals

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