The teasers are out, but you’ve still got five months before season five of Downton Abbey airs. In the meantime, here’s a way to make your obsession with the show a lot more productive: Eat like a Crawley.”Just watch how any of the ‘upstairs’ family at Downton Abbey eats or drinks tea: with a regal uprightness that preserves their stature,” says Dan Cayer, a teacher of the Alexander Technique and owner of Fluid Movment NYC, where he coaches clients in nonsurgical pain management. Cayer points out that they sit up and daintily raise teacup, fork or spoon to their lips. Then there’s the rest of us, hunched over table (or desk), bringing face to fork just over the plate, as though in fear that the food might escape if we don’t get to it in time.There are two problems with this slump-and-shovel technique. Well, three, if you count looking like a savage.
First is that we create tension in our backs and necks. Cayer explains: “When we bring our head to the food we are compressing the vertebrae in our cervical and thoracic spine (neck and upper back). Generally, we are also hunching our shoulders, which adds more tension into our neck and shoulders. Though it might feel easier, or certainly expedient, to lean down and eat or drink, we are actually taking the weight of our head (about 12 pounds) and leaning it far out away from this center of our gravity. So what ends up doing most of the work? Neck and shoulder muscles, as well as bracing in the abdominals and lower back (basically, where many of us are sore at the end of the workday).” Sitting up releases that tension by allowing the springy spinal column to support your head’s weight.Secondly, slouching to eat is indicative of a larger problem, namely that we tend to eat on autopilot—and eat too much in the process. “Slumping over restricts your oxygen intake. New oxygen makes you more alert and think clearer and hence make better food decisions,” says Susan Albers, Psy.D., author of “But I Deserve This Chocolate! The 50 Most Common Diet-Derailing Excuses and How to Outwit Them.” “There is a new psychological theory called embodied cognition that suggests that the way we hold our body impacts the way we think. The action of slumping sends a message to your mind, ‘I can’t reach this food fast enough,’ and could leave you at risk for increasing the speed of your eating.””I know of no way that one can be mindful without having a sense of one’s body,” Cayer avers.So tuning into our posture, making a thing out of it, is a way to remind yourself to savor your delicious meal—and stop eating it when you’re full. Albers says that increasing the distance from your food to your mouth by simply sitting up straight will add precious seconds to each bite. And those seconds accumulate. Studies have shown that taking a few extra minutes to finish your meal reduces the likelihood that you’ll overeat.Since we don’t teach posture in school anymore, take a sitting lesson from the Crawleys (except Mary Crawley, Cayer disclaims, “who often appears as if she could collapse into a puddle at any moment”). Cayer says to imagine balancing your head on your spine like a plate atop a pole. And check your chairs, Albers adds. A straight back chair at the right height will discourage slumping. If you don’t want to splurge on new seating, she advises to “pause for one moment before you start eating. Intentionally feel the small of your back touch the back of the chair.” Then picture yourself at dinner in Downton and add a dash of decorum to your diet.MORE: The First and Last Word on Mindful Eating