Mindful eating stems from the practice of mindfulness, where we attend to the present moment with non-judgement, compassion and curiosity. Mindful eating involves being aware of and connected to, the food we are eating through our physical and emotional senses. This encourages gratitude for the food as well as the opportunity to make choices that are loving and nourishing for our bodies and the environment. It’s not another diet fad or quick fix. Mindful eating is about sustainably, consciously and lovingly changing your relationship with food, your body and the environment.
The opposite of mindful eating is mindless eating is associated with overeating, anxiety and weight gain. People will often eat mindlessly if they are watching television, working, talking on the phone, scrolling through Instagram or driving in the car while eating.
Mindful eating is not about weight loss. Mindless eating has been promoted by the pace with which our society has started to move. Everyone is always busy and feels like they have no time to sit down for a meal. Mindful eating is one way we can reverse this manic pace and nourish ourselves properly.
This all sounds good in theory, but what does research tell us are the benefits of mindful eating?
The good news is that there are a myriad of benefits to mindful eating! As an extension of mindfulness, mindful eating supports not only our physical health but also our emotional and mental health as it supports us in staying connected to the present moment. When we live in the present moment, our mind is less inclined to be ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.
Mindful eating can also help distinguish emotional hunger cues from physical hunger cues. This can support people in avoiding binge eating or emotional eating, which can lead to unwanted weight gain and feeling out of control and shameful.
Mindful eating can also encourage us to be more mindful of social and environmental issues. When we become aware of our food, we begin to think about where it came from and what was done to produce it. This can give us a sense of gratitude as well as awareness. From this place, we can make conscious choices about living sustainably and ethically, which is good for our bodies, our minds and our planet.
So, if mindful eating interests you, what are some ways you could get started?
There are many different ways to begin experimenting with mindful eating. Create a peaceful environment for you to practice mindful eating and take some long and deep diaphragmatic breaths before you eat a meal to help you slow down.
Choose smaller portions and eat slowly so you can start to notice the internal cues of your body letting you know when you are full. You can also support this by eating smaller bites and chewing your food slowly. Slowing down will also allow you to pay more attention to the smells, textures, tastes and temperatures of the meal. If you’re out at dinner, describe what you are tasting to people.
Finally, you can use a hunger scale to get in touch with the internal cues of your body. A hunger scale is where at one end you are feeling absolutely ravenous (1) and at the other end you are sickly full (10). It is optimal to be eating when you are beginning to feel hungry and to stop eating when you notice you are feeling satisfied. This takes practice, so go gently with yourself and approach it with curiosity.
If you’re interested in doing some further reading, Savor Every Bite by Lynn Rossy, Just Eat it by Laura Thomas and Your Weight is Not the Problem by Lyndi Cohen, are all great places to start learning more about this approach to food, your body, health and life.
Stay mindful folks!