(The fifth of 10 blogs on behaviors that affect eating)
French women eat until they are satiated. Americans tend to eat until they are full or until the food is gone.
The typical American meal takes about 20 minutes. French meals are a slow deliberate process. (Warsink)
The French obesity rate is 11 percent overall and only 6 percent for women. Thirty-three percent of Americans are obese.
How do the French manage their weight so effectively? In her book French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano says the secret lies in:
- Making the meal a special time
- Closing out everything else
- Taking pleasure in every bite
- Eating a little of everything
- Learning portion control
- Remembering what you ate
- Compensating for over indulging in the next meal
For the French, eating is not being on a diet. It is a way of life.
The challenge for many of us is to switch from consuming food while the mind wanders, to focusing our attention on the food.
This is hard for many people who feel overloaded, overworked and the stress of constant time pressure. It might be hard, but working at it can pay big dividends:
- Enjoy food more
- Eat well
- Eat fewer calories
- Enhance your positivity ratio
- Take a break from stress
There is a lot of discussion about mindless eating and being mindful. In a mindless state, what happens is that the mind wanders and the experience is one of indifference. Think about the times that you were eating and your mind was elsewhere and you were surprised that you had finished your meal. Or, you couldn’t really remember how it tasted. This used to happen to me regularly with coffee. I would get a fresh cup just before sitting down to read or write and once I got engaged in that task, I would mindlessly drink the coffee. As a result my desire for coffee was not satiated and I would soon get another cup. My coffee consumption became a problem including too many trips to the restroom.
I am in the process of cutting back by taking coffee breaks and savoring the full cup. It is like practicing mindfulness or mindful meditation – I become fully engaged in the coffee experience – the aroma, the taste and a few minutes of clearing my mind. Sure, between sips I might think about something else in my immediate environment, a plant, a car or the people around me. But when I raise the cup I try to focus my full attention on the coffee. Sometimes the task I am trying to take a break from intrudes – if I cannot suppress it, I pour the coffee out and get back to it.
In the case of eating or drinking, being mindful is to acknowledge and appreciate what you are consuming and to seek out a positive emotional connection.
Everyday Ways to Savor the Food You Consume
Simply put, mindfully experience the meal with all five senses and a full range of emotions.
Let’s start with the mindful act of anticipation. Simply thinking about food can cause the brain to signal the stomach to start secreting the gastric acids required for digestion. Seeing, smelling, hearing, touching and tasting all enhance this process.
Seeing. Before you pick up the fork take a mental picture of the meal. As you look at each ingredients focus on the most positive elements, the ones that lead to anticipation and desire. Next, take a mental photograph of the meal, not just what it contains but also the emotional lift that comes with anticipation. This mental photograph will help you remember the meal both experientially and for any compensation or adjustment to future meals if you over-indulge.
Smelling. When it comes to tasting food, our sense of smell plays an equal if not greater role to our taste buds. Think back to a time when your nose was congested from a cold and how this lead to food being perceived as uninteresting or bland. In contrast, recall the impact of the aroma of freshly baked bread.
After taking your mental picture, put your nose closer to the plate and try to detect the unique flavors coming from each ingredient before you load the fork. When you do take a bite, slow down the process to give smell a chance.
Sound. Madison Avenue doesn’t emphasis the sizzle of the steak without good reason. Not all meals and ingredients are equally sound worthy but by paying attention, you can lead to enhance the experience by hearing how something sounds as you put it on your plate, cut into to it or begin chewing. These sensations can have both value in the present and value through anticipation in the future.
Touch. Touch has a lot to do with the textural experience. It starts with the touch of the fork and knife and continues with as the food touches you mouth, is chewed and the feeling in you mouth. Think about the sensation of eating a green bean that is cooked by crisp versus one that is overcooked and soft. You won’t always get food in the textural form you prefer, but you will always have an experience.
Taste. Our taste buds detect 5 primary flavor elements: sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umani (meaty or savory). Each contributes to our overall perception of taste but when we eat quickly we can miss the full experience because of the lack of attentiveness. But the sensitivity of our taste buds is also impacted by our mood. When we are down or stressed our ability to detect sour and salt is reduced. The consequence is that we tend to consume more food to get the anticipated taste experience. An earlier post (link) discusses steps you can take to elevate your mood and tune up your taste buds before the meal.
The sensory experience of eating is always most intense in the first bite. After that habituation occurs, the sensory impact is progressively less intense. This why French women can taste and savor small portions eat food, experience great pleasure and don’t get fat from the eating the extra less savory calories.
To get the feel for savoring your food, try this mindful eating exercise. Eat a few raisins, slowly, one at a time, taking the time to experience the full sensory experience and how it changes over time. Most people quickly find they enjoy the few raisins more than when they munch down a whole box.