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How to Use Slow Thinking to Eat Mindfully

I’ve heard of slow food before, but I only recently came across the idea of slow thinking. This was a concept introduced in the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.

I haven’t read the book, but after listening to an interview with Kahneman, and reading a little more about the concepts, I realized that to eat mindfully, you need to use slow thinking.

What’s the Difference Between Fast and Slow Thinking?

Kahneman separates our ways of thinking into two parts:

  • System 1, or fast thinking, is our initial, gut reaction to something, when we jump to conclusions and make first impressions

  • System 2, or slow thinking, is a more reflective, logical approach where we do analysis and problem-solving

He also points out that even if you like to think of yourself as a rational person, you spend most of your time in System 1.

This is because, as Kahneman puts it, with System 1 you have cognitive ease, but System 2 causes cognitive strain. It takes a conscious effort, or something new, to switch to a more analytical mode. And as you probably know, most of us like to go with the path of least resistance.

From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that a lot of our decisions are made using System 1, We don’t always have the time or mental resources to go deep and figure things out.

This was true for our ancestors, who had to make quick decisions to stay alive, and it’s true in our current world, where you’re bombarded with information and are expected to respond quickly.

Unfortunately, fast thinking has some drawbacks.

Why Fast Thinking Doesn’t Work with Mindful Eating

When you’re thinking fast, you’re more likely to draw the wrong conclusions from events.

You’ll tell yourself a story to make sense of what happened, but because you’re doing this quickly, you probably don’t have all the information. Your story will, therefore, be wrong, or at least incomplete.

You’re also likely to refer to this story again, thinking that it’s true, as a way to confirm your opinion about other things. With this confirmation bias, you won’t look for other explanations.

For example, maybe you’ve gotten into a pattern of overeating at night. Say you get home and just start munching on things, and you don’t stop until the food is gone or you’re uncomfortably full.

You might jump to the conclusion that you have no willpower. That you can’t be trusted around food. That you’re a failure and out of control when it comes to eating.

And if this happens again the next night, it just confirms those ideas.

But that’s not the whole story.

How Slow Thinking and Mindful Eating Go Together

On the other hand, when you’re thinking slow, you’re taking a step back and looking at the situation more rationally. You can make more informed decisions and choices.

If you’re thinking slow, you might notice that when you get home, you’re very hungry because you didn’t have much for lunch, or it was a long time ago.

Maybe you make the impulsive decision to have a snack, but because you’re eating fast, you still don’t feel satisfied. So you keep eating.

Maybe you also make a dinner that you feel like you “should” have because it’s nutritious, even though you don’t enjoy it. Then you keep eating afterward so you can have foods you like.

Or you might notice that you’re bored in the evening and are eating to give yourself something to do. Or you’re trying to relax after a stressful day.

With slow thinking, you can start to notice patterns and also make different decisions. You could plan for a mid-afternoon snack. You could choose a more enjoyable dinner.

You could also find other ways to relax or keep yourself entertained.

Whatever it is, slow thinking enables mindful eating by giving you that pause. You’re not just reacting – you’re responding thoughtfully.

Slow Thinking Takes Time and Effort but Pays Off

Slow thinking can feel like a lot of work, and you’re not wrong. It does take more effort, and it certainly takes longer than going with your first reaction.

But it has a lot of benefits. It can help you understand what’s truly driving you to act in certain ways, whether it’s around eating or anything else. It will also help calm you down since you’re not going at such a fast pace.

And when you can make those more informed decisions, you’ll be happier in the long run.

If you’ve had any of your own experiences with fast or slow thinking, leave a comment! And if you’ve never tried slow thinking, autumn seems like a perfect time to start, with everything around us slowing down.

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