We've all done it: eaten our lunch in a rush and then wondered two minutes later where it all went and how it actually tasted.
When it comes to mealtimes, what many of us could benefit from is the practice known as 'mindful eating'.
What is mindful eating? Are there real benefits to it? If so, what's the best way to start? Here we talk to Jean Hailes accredited practising dietitian Stephanie Pirotta to find out.
Ms Pirotta explains that mindful eating is about bringing your focus to the task you're doing in the present moment – eating – and paying deliberate attention to what's going on inside and around you.
"Mindful eating aims to heighten your awareness. It brings the focus to your physical presence and how you are feeling internally," says Ms Pirotta. "It is not necessarily about relaxation or happiness, although these may come as welcome side effects from eating a meal mindfully."
Mindful eating celebrates the joy and satisfaction of eating. "It's eating without judging or criticising yourself," says Ms Pirotta.
"A large number of studies have demonstrated that mindfulness-based activities can provide real benefits," says Ms Pirotta. "Mindful eating can help in identifying unhealthy behaviour patterns around food; for example, eating too much, or eating when you're not actually hungry and don't need to eat."
A 2014 review conducted by American researchers found that mindful eating was effective in reducing binge-eating disorders (commonly involving emotional eating) when compared to no treatment.
However, it was not superior to cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT), a type of therapy commonly used to help overcome diagnosed eating disorders.
"More research is needed on how effective mindful eating is on weight management; however, the current thinking is that it may be helpful in preventing weight gain," says Ms Pirotta. "The greatest benefit in the research has been in adults who are overweight or obese, rather than adults who are already a healthy weight."
As well as these findings, mindful eating is, for many of us, a way to better enjoy food and life. It puts the focus on the present moment, allowing you to slow down and take some time to savour the flavours and experience of eating. So let's get into it!
Choosing to eat more mindfully doesn't mean a complete life overhaul. Start by choosing to eat one meal per day more mindfully, eg, breakfast, lunch or dinner. If that's too much, start with just one meal per week eg, Sunday lunch or Saturday breakfast.
Before eating, stop for a moment and consider how you're feeling. Ask yourself: am I hungry? Am I thirsty? Am I stressed, bored, worried or rushed?
Often we eat because our mind or emotions compel us to – you may reach for food for comfort or distraction. But by tuning into your body more, and eating only when you're actually hungry or at set mealtimes, you'll become better at knowing your real hunger cues from emotional ones. Ask yourself, "How am I feeling?" Then follow up with, "If I am feeling this way and I eat this food, how will it help me feel better? How will I feel after it?"
Set the scene for a mindful meal by removing screens and other distractions from the room or table. Turn off the TV and switch your phone to flight mode. Focus on enjoying your meal as well as your own company, or that of those around you.
Keep serving bowls and leftovers off the table and out of sight while you're eating. This can reduce the chance of you going back for unnecessary seconds and keeps the focus on your plate in front of you.
If you have trouble controlling portion sizes, try eating off a smaller plate. This can help to reduce your serving amounts, and stop you from feeling as if you're missing out or depriving yourself.
Meal times can be a chance to change the pace of your day and slow it down. Eating mindfully means chewing slowly and savouring the moment. Notice the colours, flavours and textures of your meal. Pause between each mouthful and put your utensils down on the plate. You will experience a greater sense of taste and pleasure from your food by doing this!
Aim to take about 20 minutes to eat a meal mindfully. Compare it to how long you would usually take to eat a meal.
Eating mindfully can also involve thinking about the journey everything on your plate took to get there – from where and how it grew, to the person who prepared it. Thoughts of gratitude and appreciation can add even more enjoyment to the experience of eating.
We all need a reminder now and then to eat more mindfully and we've made it easy for you! Just download our mindful eating poster and pop it on your fridge, pantry door, by your kitchen table, in your staffroom – wherever you need a gentle hint to slow it down and savour the moment.