THE BLOG
07/31/2013 02:27 pm ET Updated Sep 30, 2013

Rituals and Mindful Eating Can Help You Control Your Weight

There's scientific proof that even the smallest rituals can ultimately help us eat mindfully, resulting in portion control and possible weight loss.

A recent study published in Psychological Science shows that something as simple as singing happy birthday, wrapping or unwrapping an item or even cutting it in half before eating can affect the perception of food. This applies to anything, whether it's cake, candy or a carrot.

It's thought that perhaps the delay time between performing the ritual and the actual consumption builds anticipation. That means flavor is enhanced and we eat slowly and mindfully, giving our minds and body a catch to catch up and register satiety.

That's a big difference from our fast food culture which encourages gobbling, mindless eating and multitasking. We eat far more than we need -- portions are out of control and we continue to eat long after we're no longer hungry. This causes us to feel stuffed, bloated and fatigued -- not to mention what this gulping does to the parasympathetic nervous system, the place where digestion is regulated.

Here's how I learned about the importance of the food ritual. I love my morning cup of coffee, so much so that it's not unusual for me to wolf it down, but I almost never have a desire for a second cup.

Now, I know all about the negative effects of caffeine. It's not that I never tried to eliminate it. I've had my share of green drinks, protein smoothies and herbal teas. Everything though, pales in comparison to that first cup of coffee.

A few years ago, I found out that it wasn't the caffeine I wanted but, rather, the ceremony of brewing the coffee. I got to shop for the coffee beans and then grind, measure and pour. I loved how it made the house smell. Sometimes I'd even get to use a plunger coffee maker, those French pots where you push the top down and then see the whole thing brewing.

Even running out to purchase an already-brewed cup became a tradition for me. I'd go to the same diner and see and talk to the same people. When the owner would hear me come in, he'd come out of the kitchen so we could discuss national politics and try to solve the world's problems.

That morning cup of coffee is how I greet my day.

One day I decided to try an all-natural organic herbal coffee. Made of fruit and nuts, this coffee is brewed it just like any other. To my utter shock, I found that it tasted exactly the same as the caffeinated version. I wolfed it down just like the other, and it gave me that same sense of happiness, with those same wonderful flavors and smells. I also noticed that I never did experience any of those caffeine-withdrawal symptoms, such as headache or fatigue. In fact, when I did have a little caffeinated coffee a few weeks later, that's exactly when I experienced symptoms.

Now that we know about the importance of rituals, let's circle back to mindful eating to understand just why it can help you. When you savor every bite, you experience flavors, textures and colors. You'll eat slowly so you'll be able to determine when you're no longer hungry and you'll stop eating. That will enable you to control your portions and that will help you with your weight. Your mind and digestion will thank you.

Having said that:

Don't multitask. If you're eating, just eat. Don't try to juggle eating with reading, watching television, working at the computer or any other activity.
Don't use the "I'm stuck at the office" excuse. Everyone has five minutes so shut the office door, turn off the computer, let your phone go to voicemail and enjoy your lunch. One of two things will happen: You'll either go back to work feeling refreshed, or you'll discover that you really do have time for a little longer break.
Don't dismiss your rituals. For some, it's as simple as eating with a certain fork, or cutting or chopping a certain way. For others, it can be lighting candles, listening to a particular piece of music or even saying a little prayer first.

Oh, and by the way, you should see me eat my favorite confectionery item. Long after everyone has devoured their portion and is looking for another helping, I'm still methodically biting the top to separate the chocolate from the wafer. Then -- and only then -- will I eat it.

For more by Irene Ross, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.