Mindful eating is a hot topic that you’re probably hearing a lot about lately and that’s especially true because of food-related health issues we currently face.
However, even though mindful eating applies to issues today, it is not a modern-day invention. Mindful eating is rooted in the Buddhist tradition and is considered a fundamental aspect of living that helps prevent unnecessary harm to one’s body and mind.
The concept of mindfulness was first introduced to the West about 40 years ago. Mindful eating is one of the mindfulness-based interventions that was developed and studied over the past 20 years with ample research supporting its benefits. Let’s take a look at some of those benefits…
Benefits of Mindful Eating:
- Improved eating behaviors and patterns
- Reduction in binge eating episodes and frequencies
- Improved quality of diet
- Increased body satisfaction and pleasure when eating
- Improved metabolic outcomes
- Psychological wellbeing
- Emotional balance
- Increased self- compassion
- Increase in positive emotional and psychological qualities
- Improved distress tolerance
- Increased meaning and sense of purpose
To help us understand what mindful eating is, we need to understand first what mindfulness is.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, moment-by-moment practice of developing awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future. The “non-judgmental” part of the definition refers to the idea that mindfulness involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and emotions without judging them, without believing that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment.
The skill of mindfulness is to be able to place our attention where we wish it to go, and not where it is pulled to in the moment. And this skill can be cultivated through the consistent practice of mindfulness meditation as we sit or lie down and focus on our breath, bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions. The skill of tuning in to the breath for example, teaches us how to tune into our signals of hunger, fullness, cravings, enjoyment and more.
How mindfulness relates to mindful eating
Practicing mindfulness brings attention the following elements, which in turn can be applied to the act of eating.
Difficult emotions – like sadness, anger, fear, boredom, loneliness, or any other emotion that might be a trigger to eat.
Mindfulness helps us develop new skills to manage discomfort and emotional pain other than food.
Challenging thoughts – self judgement, critical thoughts, self worth, body image. People tend to respond with food to such thoughts, and most often use food as punishment. With mindfulness we acknowledge our thoughts and accept them without reacting. We accept our critical thoughts with self-compassion and an open heart.
Bodily sensations – we listen to our body cues, like physical hunger, fullness, taste preferences, etc.
What is true for us at the moment – we recognize our true needs, for example, do I really need a cookie now or is what I truly need a hug or a heartfelt conversation with a friend?
Healthy eating models – we learn about nutrition information like general awareness of energy value of food, quality of food, and awareness of portion sizes that may be helpful with our food choices.
How our bodies react to food – we learn how our body reacts to different types of food, what energizes our bodies, what makes us feel sluggish, what makes us feel bloated…etc
Applying mindfulness to eating
So applying mindfulness to food and eating is what is called Mindful Eating. Let’s take a closer look at what it is.
Mindful Eating Involves Connecting with Your Body
Mindful eating involves connecting with your body to listen to its signals and what it’s telling you, like when to eat and when to stop eating. What would you like to eat at a given moment and when are you no longer enjoying the food that you’re eating. All of these signals can be missed if we don’t pay close attention.
With mindful eating you also learn to distinguish physical hunger signals from other triggers for wanting to eat, because its very common that we confuse for example boredom or sadness for being physically hungry.
Mindful Eating Involves Managing Your Emotions
Mindful eating involves identifying and managing your food triggers, like the situations or emotions that trigger you to eat. It also helps us to identify and manage food cravings.
Mindful Eating is Not a Diet or a Weight Loss Plan
Mindful eating is not a diet or a weight loss plan, so there’s no deprivation in mindful eating. In fact, it’s the opposite. Mindful eating acknowledges that no one can tell you what to eat and how much to eat to feel satisfied. Only YOU can tell, by tuning into your body’s signals and making the food choices that work for you personally.
In mindful eating you learn about how your body responds to certain foods and again this helps you make the choices that would be nourishing for you.
Mindful Eating is Flexible Eating
There are no restrictions in mindful eating, because your life cannot be the same every day. You will be invited to parties, potlucks, and holiday dinners. You will go on vacations and you will have events at work. In mindful eating you learn how to enjoy the food on every occasion and event.
Mindful Eating Liberates from the Diet Mentality
Mindful eating is liberating. It liberates from the diet mentality and liberates from the burden of being obsessed with weight, body image and food related thoughts. And this energy can be given to other areas in your life that are more important and nourishing.
Mindful Eating is Balanced Eating
Mindful eating is balanced eating– eating in more balance with what your body needs at any given moment and in more balance with all the other aspects of your life, family, friends, work, hobbies, and entertainment.
And it doesn’t mean that you always have to eat as a response to physical hunger. Yes, sometimes we eat for comfort, or as a response to emotions, and yes we eat something just because we like it and we want to eat it and enjoy it, yet all of this is within balance.
Mindful Eating is Not About What you Eat, it is About How you Eat
Mindful eating doesn’t mean that you always have to eat healthy food. Mindful eating includes enjoying high fat, high sugar, high salt foods, but you learn the skills to maximize the enjoyment from eating a smaller quantity and in a way that is nourishing to your body and mind.
Mindful Eating Cultivates a Healthy Relationship with Food
With mindful eating we cultivate a healthy relationship with food where we can enjoy it without the feelings of guilt and shame. We approach our experiences with food and eating with the attitudes of non-judgment, compassion, kindness, patience, acceptance and open heart.
You can start practicing mindful eating today!
Learn 6 tips to practice mindful eating in another article written by our Mindfulness teacher, Rajaa.