Our bodies need balance and routine at mealtime, but unfortunately, our increasingly fast-paced lifestyles don’t always make this easy. More and more often, we find ourselves eating on-the-go, between meetings, out of mealtimes, or even whilst walking!
Eating in fact requires some thought and care, and is made up of three stages; the pre-ingestive stage (hunger), the ingestive stage (appetite followed by satiation) and post-ingestive (satiety).
The pre-ingestive stage and the environment in which you eat are just as important as the food itself! Your brain has already analysed and triggered the digestion process before you even take your first bite… that’s pretty impressive!
So most importantly, adopting good eating habits means being able to recognise when you start to feel full. The feeling of fullness determines how much you eat and when you stop eating, however bad eating habits mean that we aren’t always able to recognise this. When you start to feel full, start by putting down your knife and fork and consider whether you are still hungry.
Developing good habits!
It’s important to try and sit down at mealtimes, as this allows our bodies to fully concentrate on digesting the food and absorbing its nutrients. In order to function properly, digestive organs found at the center of our bodies require blood flow to be directed towards them, however when you eat on the move, blood flow is directed towards the muscles at our extremities.
Similarly, it’s important to eat in a well-lit environment, without exterior stimuli such as TVs, mobile phones and other visual distractions.
As you can imagine, when moving around or concentrating on other things, it’s pretty difficult for our brains to also concentrate on food intake! As a result, it’s likely that you won’t be able to recognise when you start to feel full.
But of course, it’s not the end of the world if you can’t always eat in the ‘perfect’ conditions… our bodies usually get used to it in the end!
It’s already a good start if you can choose a good environment and allow yourself around 30 minutes for your mealtime. You only begin to feel full after about 15-20 minutes, so when you eat too fast, you are also likely to eat too much.
Taking the time to chew your food is also particularly important as it’s the first stage of digestion which is both mechanic (movement of teeth and tongue) and chemical (salivary enzymes). So, by grinding down your food as much as possible, you are also helping digestion.
In order to get rid of cravings followed by constant nibbling, try to avoid skipping meals. The traditional three to four meals per day, when balanced both in quantity and quality, should keep you feeling full throughout the day! If you’re feeling slightly ‘snackish’ or in need of a pick-me-up, try to avoid eating sugary foods on their own and opt instead for a balanced mix of unsalted nuts, seasonal fruits, whole grains and lean proteins.
Above all, eating is a psychological need and should also be a social occasion – it’s essential to associate eating with enjoyment.
According to our origins and upbringings, we will all adopt different dietary habits and it’s important to remember that all of our differences contribute to the richness of different cultures. So, there’s no need to worry if you’re used to eating standing up, crouching down, during the night, in the car etc.. If you feel well, it’s part of your ‘rhythm’ and therefore your own ‘good eating habits’.