eating

Eating Slowly is Awesome for Eating Well

Putting mindfulness into practice

Yesterday, I wrote about how mindfulness and simple self-awareness can change body, brain, and behaviour.

I want to tell you about a straightforward thing you can do today to help you get a better sense of your bodily experience.

It’s simple... But it’s not easy.

It’s also incredible how transformational this can be.

Eat slowly

That’s it.

Eat slowly.

It’s that simple.

Try:

  • Putting your fork down between bites.
  • Relax. Breathe. Take a few extra moments before you pick the fork up again.
  • Set a timer if you need to — start with 15 minutes per meal as a basic goal. Work up to 20 or even 30.
  • Chew a few more times than you think you need to.
  • Enjoy and savour each bite. If you’re eating something delicious, take pleasure in it. Notice smells, flavours, and textures.
  • Eat mindfully without distractions such as TV, smartphones, or the computer. (Pleasant conversation with friends and family is, of course, welcome.)

Yes. I’m serious. Eat slowly!

When I ask my clients to do this, they’re often surprised. “It’s too easy,” they say. Before admitting that they don’t eat slowly already.

As I said, this is simple, not necessarily easy.

Why slow eating is awesome

Slow eating does some important things!

Slow eating creates mindfulness. Mindfulness creates awareness.

A lot of people eat poorly simply because they’re unaware. They’re unaware of how to eat well, of what poor (or good) eating feels like, of how their body responds to different food choices.

The thing is, being ‘aware’ is a one-way street. Once you’re aware, you can’t go back to unaware.

A lot of people who want to lose weight know they need to eat less. And they almost always rely on external things to help them eat less. I’m talking about things like calorie counting or eating strict portions. I’ve been here - for a time; I weighed all the food I ate. And of course, as you might expect, I didn’t keep doing it in the long run. Remember the elephant?

Luckily, I learned to get the hang of slow eating and body cues so that I was aware when I overate. And you can too.

You see, slow, aware over-eating (and its aftermath) isn’t fun. You’ll notice when you do it.

Slow eating means you enjoy your food more

Eating slowly attunes you to flavours, textures, and smells of food. You’ll become more aware of holistic food quality.

Junk food tastes like shit when you eat it slowly. It’s disappointing, empty, unsatisfying - even downright disgusting.

But, real food often tastes even better when you eat it slowly.

Driven by taste, you’ll instinctively start to seek out better choices.

That emotional brain elephant is gently guided, rather than wrenched unwillingly.

Slow eating provides important information to the GI tract and gives satiety hormones time to kick in.

This might sound weird, but smelling, chewing, tasting, and swallowing food is all part of eating. I know, I know; stating the obvious.

The thing is, all of those parts of eating are involved in communicating with the rest of the gastrointestinal (GI) system. They all give essential data to the whole system.

Ever noticed how smelling something cooking makes you salivate? Well, it goes further than that - our bodies get ready for digestion by releasing enzymes and hormones and kicking off processes to get the process going. Also, retronasal olfaction (the smell that wafts up into your nasal passages via the back of your throat when you chew) is a crucial component of satiety.

If you rush, you don’t smell, taste, or texturally experience your food. Your body doesn’t notice stuff getting shoved into the pipeline until it’s too late.

However, when you eat slowly, your satiety hormones have time to work. You can stop eating naturally, earlier.

Slow eating helps with digestion.

As I alluded to above, awareness of the information your food is giving you helps your body to cue digestive activity properly, so the GI system isn’t caught off guard. Your gut will be ready to deal with something, and if you’ve eaten slowly, it’ll know more about what you ate and what to do with it.

So you’ll feel better after you eat.

You might even find that your heartburn and indigestion seem to go away magically.

Slow eating doesn’t depend on controlling what you eat.

This is a big one. You can eat slowly anywhere, at any time, with any food. Whether it’s a huge Christmas lunch, an important family dinner, or a business lunch. No matter what’s on your plate or who’s around you, you can eat slowly.

You can be doing something mindful for your health while not feeling restrictive or deprived. And we all know that emotional-brain elephant hates being deprived. You can even do this while eating a cheat meal or an emotional eating episode.

Slow eating makes your body the boss.

This is pretty cool.

Getting good at slow eating means that eventually, you won’t need to rely on external controls like weighing food or calorie counting. You’ll know what’s right for you, and even if you’re unsure at the start of the meal, you’ll be aware enough to know while you’re eating. You’ll feel much less anxious about calories and much more self-assured when you eat.

As I learned when I stopped weighing my food, relinquishing (external) control gives you much more real control.

Mindfulness is the path to this outcome.

Simple, but not easy

As I said at the start, eating slowly is simple, but it’s not easy. I listed some strategies you can use - go back and take a look if you want to give this a go!

Eating slowly is easy to understand. The ways you can do it are simple. But it’s not easy to do them. As usual, it’s not so much the ‘what’ to do, but the ‘how’ to do it that’s hard. It’s entirely normal for you to find this difficult - I know I do!

You might notice some resistance in things like:

  • You don’t love your favourite junk foods as much as you thought. Be prepared for some grief and loss here.
  • You are rushing and stressed much of the time anyway. Trying to eat slowly stresses you out because you “don’t have time”. Start with eating slowly just one meal a day. Ask yourself, am I really so busy I can’t take 15 minutes to eat?
  • It’s hard to be alone and quiet with yourself while eating. Maybe you rushed lunch before because you were avoiding being alone. I encourage you to try for a few minutes and sit with any discomfort. Be curious about the discomfort.

Even slowing down by a minute or two in a meal is a victory. Focus on when you could eat slowly rather than when you couldn’t. You haven’t failed at eating slowly if you rushed the first half of the meal but slowed down for the second half. Once you’re aware, you can’t go back to being unaware.

I’d love to hear how you go trying to eat slowly. Let me know in the comments, or send me an email! I’m curious, do you have any other strategies to eat slowly?

What is Food?

I learned to cook when I was too short to reach the stove top. I had to stand on a stool to help Mum and before I knew it was making dinner for the family once in a while. So I’ve been fascinated with food for a long time.

This fascination has been there with me through everything I’ve done in my life. My interest in sustainability and the environment stems from wanting to know more about where food comes from. I’ve worked in agricultural science for nearly 10 years now because I’ve been following that curiosity. When I graduated from high school I very nearly decided to become a chef. I love cooking for my friends and family and having people gather around food. Then there’s the more recent connection between food and health that has brought me here, aiming to help people improve their experience in life through the lens of food.

I’m pretty new to coaching. I’m still establishing why I’m here and how I want to do things. Up until this week I would have described what I do as:

Help you improve your experience in life through a lens of food.

But... As I talk to more people about food, I'm starting to see that what I do is more about aligning the way you eat with the story you want to tell in life.


A client recently described me as her counsellor for her relationship with food. I’m not a trained counsellor, but I thought it was very perceptive about my approach to food and coaching. It all starts with how I define the word food.

What is food?

Food is what we eat. Food is a tool. Food is fuel. Food is life.

There are a lot of definitions of what food is. It’s pretty broad because it comes down to anything we eat is food. But the way you define something and the words you use create a story around it that effects what that thing is to you and your relationship with it.

I see food as information. A communication. A script or a story. Food delivers messages to our bodies about which hormones to switch on or off, which proteins to express, and what to do.

Sure, food contains energy (‘food is fuel’), but it also contains lots of other things that have nothing to do with energy but are critically important to a functioning human. Micronutrients, phytochemicals, zoochemicals and mycochemicals are just some of the other things in food. When you’re missing key vitamins and minerals, your body doesn’t work properly. And you feel crap and get sick. It doesn’t matter how much ‘fuel’ you’ve eaten when your body isn’t working properly.

Living organisms are not machines. They’re super complicated, self regulating, dynamic, close-to-magic, unbelievably efficient, antifragile systems. The food you eat is a way of communicating with that system.

Your thoughts, feelings and environment can also affect the processes. If you smell your favourite meal, or have positive or negative thoughts about food (or anything else), are happy and relaxed, or worried and rushing it effects the system too.

Food is a communication. It’s a story. It’s part of who you are as a person.


Disconnection from this story is a common theme I see in coaching. Whether it’s someone who is struggling to manage their weight because they can’t tell when they’re full, or an athlete who is so used to counting calories that they can’t tell when they’re full without knowing how many calories they’ve eaten. In both situations, communication has broken down.

In both cases, it’s time to figure out what food means to that person. It’s time to figure out what the story is, what information is being passed on, and understand the food story being told.

You can do this now by taking a few minutes to consider this question:

What is food? For you?

Is it information? Is it personal freedom? Is it about making environmentally sound choices? Is it reducing animal cruelty? Is it self-esteem? Maybe it’s shame?

Okay. Now consider this. What would you like food to be? Let me know in the comments.

Think as big as possible. This is a story that shapes your daily life, your health, and how you move. You have the power to change this story and food can help you to give your body the information it needs.


People come to me with goals like lose weight, feeling better, improving performance, adding muscle, getting stronger, or looking better. All of these are common stories people have about food.

I help you figure out what your food story is, what it could be, and how you can get there.

In other news, this week I started the Precision Nutrition Level 2 certification. It’s going to consolidate my experience so far coaching and help me be a better coach. I’m really excited about what my year in the program will bring.

It's not Only Your Tastes that Change

When I was a kid, I noticed that a whole lot of the books I read featured kids complaining about the taste of broccoli. They hated it. It was so bitter and disgusting! The worst vegetable ever.

The reason it stood out to me was that I didn’t hate broccoli… In fact, it was one of my preferred vegetables. I didn’t understand why all these kids hated broccoli. When I asked my parents about it they told me that maybe the authors knew lots of kids who didn’t like it so they made their characters like them. They said it was to try to make sure the characters were relatable.

tenor.gif

But that didn’t explain why all these kids seemed to hate this vegetable that I liked… Eventually I started to think maybe I was just a really good kid who liked vegetables. A good boy.


I work in the agriculture industry now and I know a little better.

Even so, it didn’t occur to me until very recently that maybe I wasn’t a Good Broccoli Boy. Maybe the broccoli those (imaginary) kids were eating was different to the broccoli I was eating.

I asked a few of my friends in the business of growing vegetables about it. They’re also a decade or two older than me. They confirmed that when they were kids, broccoli was bitter and, they said, “disgusting”. Like all battle scarred kids, they told me my childhood must’ve been much easier with the lovely sweet varieties we have now.

It seems really obvious to me now, but it turns out that we’ve been systematically breeding things like bitter tastes out of our food. Consumers prefer sweeter broccoli, so breeding programs create sweeter varieties. Slowly but surely that’s all you can buy. It has been happening for a long time.

I have been wondering about whether this is a good thing. Sweeter broccoli tastes better, but what else has changed about it? My concern with this is that we humans are really good at making changes to things without considering all the consequences of our actions. We want a sweeter broccoli so we just select for the sweeter varieties. Things like health impacts are often only considered in the marketing of our food rather than back at the pre-breeding and breeding stage. I’m wondering what the impacts of this sweeter broccoli are - has anything been lost along the way?

The author of this opinion piece in the New York Times from 2013 has similar concerns to me:

Studies published within the past 15 years show that much of our produce is relatively low in phytonutrients [compared with non-domesticated plants], which are the compounds with the potential to reduce the risk of four of our modern scourges: cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that there’s some great conspiracy here. I’m not suggesting that it’s somehow morally better to have worse tasting food. Why wouldn’t we try to make our food taste better? This reduction in phytonutrients isn’t on purpose, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t having an effect or that it doesn’t matter. The reason this happens is that phytonutrients tend to have a bitter flavour, which we tend to try to breed out, thus lowering the phytonutrient content. We also have tended to focus on foods that are energy dense to support a strenuous lifestyle. We’ve bred those foods to be more starch, oily, or sugary over time, seemingly at the expense of other advantageous compounds.

This isn’t even necessarily a problem with industrialised agriculture - recent sophisticated breeding is only a faster version of what we’ve been doing for a long time. From the same opinion piece:

The loss of these beneficial nutrients did not begin 50 or 100 years ago, as many assume. Unwittingly, we have been stripping phytonutrients from our diet since we stopped foraging for wild plants some 10,000 years ago and became farmers.

Phytonutrients are distinct from the vitamins and minerals in food. They’re chemical compounds found in plants, often unique to that particular plant. We know of over ten thousand phytonutrients so far and we discover new ones all the time. We don’t know what all of them do, but it is clear that eating a lot of different plants is good for us. Some of the things we know phytonutrients do are:

  • scavange free radicals as antioxidants
  • help with DNA repair
  • influence hormone function
  • help fight pathogens
  • lower inflammation

Some of them work by mildly stressing the cells in the body and causing them to get stronger. That process is called hormesis - like a microscopic workout!


Phytonutrients are pretty important. So it’s concerning that the plants we eat for food seem to contain less of them than other plants.

Were the people who foraged for these wild foods healthier than we are today? They did not live nearly as long as we do, but growing evidence suggests that they were much less likely to die from degenerative diseases, even the minority who lived 70 years and more. The primary cause of death for most adults, according to anthropologists, was injury and infections.

If the variety and number of phytonutrients available in food was so much higher than it is today, it’s little wonder that degenerative disease was less common.

But the problem with all this is that it doesn’t really matter for us day to day. How can you have any impact on this? How can you make a difference to something that started ten thousand years ago?

Given the complexity of how phytonutrients, how little we understand about how they work, and how little impact you can have on past events; all you can do is try to eat a variety of plants and lots of them. There are some plants around that have kept a relatively high phytonutrient content for various reasons, but it’s hard to say that those specific plants are better to eat than others. For example, herbs like parsley and rosemary have been valued for their strong flavours and thus have kept a high phytonutrient content despite being domesticated. So, adding lots of fresh herbs to a meal could be a good thing to do.

While this stuff is certainly interesting and is a good example of how bad humans are at understanding the impacts of our interventions in the world; it changes little about how I’d recommend you eat. Eat as many vegetables at every meal with a variety of vegetable choices and cooking methods. I don’t want you to spend time worrying about phytonutrients in your food.

If you liked this article, let me know in the comments below! Is there a vegetable you've noticed has changed in your lifetime? Brussel sprouts anyone??

Delicious Homemade Chocolate

I’m about to make my first batch of home made chocolate.

Since I changed the way I eat a few years ago, I rarely eat sweets anymore. But I still crave chocolate on a regular basis. I eat it reasonably regularly, but I have worked hard to make sure that I don’t eat it as a reward.

For me, the darker the chocolate, the better. I make delicious fatty hot chocolate for breakfast (yes breakfast…) sometimes instead of a fatty coffee (or Bulletproof coffee).

I’m real excited about making this first batch. I’m going to follow this recipe:

yummchocolatebeans.jpg

The ingredients

  • 1 part cocoa butter
  • 1 part virgin coconut oil
  • 1 part (raw) organic cocoa powder

You can also add other dry ingredients like nuts, dried fruit or whatever. I’m not going to for my first batch, but I’ll do some experimenting and update this recipe when I find some good additions.

Step 1.

Grate the cocoa butter. It melts more easily when it’s grated. 

Step 2.

Place the cocoa butter and coconut oil in a water in a small, heat-safe cup or bowl. Then place the cup or bowl in a shallow pan containing a small amount of warm (not boiling, but nearly) water. You can also do this using a bowl over a very slightly simmering (just starting to bubble with some steam - definitely not boiling) saucepan. The idea is to apply heat indirectly and evenly - doing it this way means you won’t burn it or cook it too much.

Stir the oil and butter occasionally until it’s smooth. 

Step 3.

Measure out the cocoa powder. If you’d like to add any other dry ingredients, measure them out now and stir them together with the cocoa powder.

Step 4.

Pour the dry ingredients in the bowl with melted oil and butter. Stir continuously until smooth. 

Step 6.

Pour the chocolate into ice cube trays to set in nice portions.

Step 7.

Eat as you like! Go easy though - it’s very dark, very strong chocolate, so you won’t need much to be satisfied! ;)


If you enjoyed this post (and this delicious chocolate!), sign up below to get updates from me. I have also just started to offer nutrition coaching - if you are looking for help getting your eating in order and to build sustainable habits, get in touch via email: hello at tomthings.com.

Eating for Recovery

Most of the time when you think about eating to support rest and recovery, you think about protein. At school you learned that “protein is for growth and repair” so it makes sense.

It’s not as though this isn’t true. But, like so much with life and eating, it’s not that simple. When you’re trying to recover and rest, your body uses a whole lot of other nutrients and minerals in addition to the macronutrients. It will depend entirely on you and the specific situation as to exactly which nutrients you need. Honestly, it’s pretty likely you won’t be able to tell what you need. There are some foods that are good to eat for recovery, your body will do its best with what you give it.

Last week I wrote about eating when you’re tired. The post was really about using systems to help you stay on track while you’re tired or otherwise engaged. This very same system is what will support you in rest and recovery. If you’re supporting your body all the time by mostly eating a varied diet of foods that work for you, you won’t need to do anything in particular to help recover.

Timing and specific details on exactly what food to eat to recover from exercise could help athletes. But if your eating system isn’t working for you, what you eat to recover and support your rest won’t really matter to the big picture. To spend time worrying about the specifics is a detail distracting you from the main game.

Eating is about the strategy, not the tactics.

Eating When You're Tired

 Packed lunches. Stacks of containers. 

Packed lunches. Stacks of containers. 

I told you I’d be very tired by the end of this week. It’s 3 days in and I wasn’t wrong. so far things are going okay, but I’m definitely seeing some things slip through the cracks.

I’m tired.

It’s when you’re tired that you’re most at risk of loss of motivation. It’s when you’re tired that you don’t have will power.

As I stuff the third sugary nut bar of the evening in my mouth I’m thinking of the work of James Clear on aiming for processes in your habits. James is talking about processes instead of goal setting which is really useful when thinking about how to eat well.

Create a process to help you eat well. Make decisions about what you’ll eat before you’re hungry.