What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating comes from the practice of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is derived from the Zen Buddhism concept of mindfulness.
In its most basic term, mindfulness is where a person achieves a voluntary state of awareness of their bodily sensations, thoughts and emotions. Mindful eating involves using the practice of mindfulness when it relates to eating. This involves being aware of your cravings, sensations and cues when you are eating something.
Mindful eating involves eating slowly, appreciating your food and noticing the colors, smells, textures, taste, flavors and even the sounds associated with the food you are eating.
It also involves eating for well-being and health, eating when hungry and eating till full rather than giving in to cravings. Hence, there is an aspect of mindful eating that taps into learning and noticing effects food has on one's body, thoughts and feelings.
How Does Mindful Eating Differ From Regular Eating?
Regular eating is mostly a mindless act. People eat because they are hungry and stop when they are full, it is mostly automatic.
It takes at least 20 minutes for the human brain to receive information from the gut that you are full. Sometimes a person can eat past the point of being full because their brain hasn't received the message yet that they are full.
This can lead to a lot of gastrointestinal issues and health-related problems such as being overweight, cardiovascular issues, obesity and high blood pressure.
Why is Mindful Eating Important?
This practice is an important concept that numerous studies have shown can counter the effects of the complications that can occur with uncontrolled regular eating. Mindful eating involves making conscious decisions to savor and appreciate the foods we eat and take time to consider what we put in our body.
Mindful eating takes into consideration how our food choices and how we eat affects the world around us and reinforces the idea of eating for health and not eating just to be full. It has helped to contribute to advocacy for more sustainable and healthy food choices as outlined in the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines.
In essence, the aim of the practice is to help people be more aware of their relationship with food and make healthier food choices to fuel their body with the best foods. It can take a person away from the sense of instant gratification we often feel from eating foods that are unhealthy.
This practice brings us to a place of awareness where we focus on how food makes our bodies feel rather than just focusing on its taste.
Pros of This Practice
There are mostly pros to mindful eating rather than cons. Research has shown that mindful eating can help reduce obesity, physical symptoms and depression. This practice has also been shown to have several benefits that are backed by research.
Mindful Eating Can Help With Weight Loss
Studies have shown that mindful eating can greatly affect the way a person views foods and feelings related to food. This involves reducing stress eating and unhealthy eating behaviors that leads to weight gain.
Mindful eating can allow someone to have more self-control in how they consume food, more positive emotions related to food and more self-awareness of their unhealthy eating habits.
Mindful Eating Can Help With Unhealthy Eating Behaviors and Eating Disorders
Most eating disorders involve an unhealthy relationship with food. This is due to emotional and unhealthy eating behaviors, such as binge eating.
Binge eating is when someone eats a lot of food in a short amount of time regardless of whether they are hungry or full. Sometimes people binge eat due to emotional struggles and some even develop a binge eating disorder.
This mindful practice can help someone curb their impulse to eat and develop a healthier relationship with food. Several studies have shown that mindful eating can help to reduce how frequently someone binge eats and the severity of a binge eating disorder.
Cons of This Practice
There are not many cons of mindful eating. The main con of mindful eating is that it requires quite a bit of effort, work and consistency to go against our automated lifestyle in relation to food.
This practice requires consciously spending time to shop for healthier food options and consciously taking the time to prepare a meal. Some people might feel that they simply do not have the time in their day to do this.
The reality for a lot of people is also that not everyone has availability or the funds to afford healthier food options that need to be consumed when eating mindfully.
Mindful eating also requires slowing down and taking time to make your meal and have your meal. This means taking at least 20 mins to eat your breakfast, lunch and dinner and not skipping those meals.
In such a fast-paced world this can be seemingly impossible to do for some people. Hence, why some people might find mindful eating hard to do and difficult to stay consistent at, especially if you have a very hectic work schedule or life.
What Foods Should Be Consumed When Eating Mindfully?
Good food choices encouraged for mindful eating are like foods consumed in the Mediterranean diet. These are mainly fruits, whole grains, seeds, nuts, vegetables, lean meat, fish and vegetable oils or olive oils.
These are usually best to consume when practicing mindful eating. Of course, someone can practice mindful eating with a cheeseburger, but overtime with the continued practice of mindful eating comes greater awareness of how food makes your body feel. This is why healthier food choices may be made with mindful eating.
Transitioning Into Mindful Eating
Mindful eating takes a process-oriented approach to eating. Transitioning into mindful eating requires consistently practicing certain steps and daily practices to move from regular to more mindful eating.
To eat mindfully you need to experience the moment of when you are eating and appreciate the experience of eating the food. To start practicing this you can attempt the raisin meditation exercise. Try to do this exercise five minutes daily for at least a week.
Steps to Start your Mindful Eating Journey
Before you eat, ask yourself why you are eating?
- Are you hungry? Are you craving something?
- Are you tired, stressed, or bored?
- Is the food you are choosing to eat going to fill you up, give you energy or leave you feeling lethargic?
- Is it healthy?
Eat slowly! Do not rush through your meals.
- Eat sitting down, not in your car or at your desk at work.
- Sit down at a dining table or even find a nice quiet area at work.
- Eat in silence, not in a busy area or restaurant. If you do choose a restaurant, find a nice quiet and cozy spot.
- Do not eat while mindlessly scrolling on your phone or watching TV.
- Avoid distractions and focus on the present moment.
- Focus on the taste of the food and the feeling it gives you.
- When you feel full, stop eating!
If you practice all the steps above this will become easier to do overtime.
More Tips and Things to Consider
- Before you eat breathe!
- Take some deep breathes and notice how your body feels. If you are hungry try and choose foods that you can savor.
- If not maybe try to get some rest or move a bit.
- Drink some water.
- Take smaller bites of your food and put down your utensil when you are chewing your food.
It’s easier to rush through a meal or feel you need to take another mouthful when you have your fork or spoon in your hand. It might help to reduce the portions you eat so you do not feel pressured to eat faster. Also, try not to skip your meals. It’s easier to rush through a meal when you are hungry and have not eaten all day. Eat with appetite not hunger.
Make sure to chew your food well until you can taste all the flavors of the food. Try chewing at least 20 to 40 times for each mouthful and notice the different flavors in your meal. If the meal tastes bland maybe it is time to switch up your food choices and try something different.
You can start by trying these methods with one meal per day and then try with the other ones. Dinner is recommended if you have a hectic work day. Once you get used to it mindful eating will become more natural and you will start seeing the difference in your eating over a few weeks.
- Harvard Health Publishing (8 Steps To Mindful Eating)
- Greater Good in Action (Raisin Meditation)
- Mindful (The BASICS of Mindful Eating)
- National Library of Medicine (Pilot study: Mindful Eating and Living (MEAL): weight, eating behavior, and psychological outcomes associated with a mindfulness-based intervention for people with obesity)
- National Library of Medicine (Mindfulness Intervention for Stress Eating to Reduce Cortisol and Abdominal Fat among Overweight and Obese Women: An Exploratory Randomized Controlled Study)
- National Library of Medicine (Mindfulness-based interventions for obesity-related eating behaviours: a literature review)
- National Library of Medicine (Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: a systematic review)
- National Library of Medicine (Mindfulness-Action Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for concurrent Binge Eating Disorder and Substance Use Disorders)
- National Library of Medicine (Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat)