Mindful eating is no longer a secret! If you checked out different article written on “Mindful Eating as Food for Thought,” it’s likely that it left you “hungry” for more information on how to adopt this healthy, healing way of eating. Mindful eating uses the ancient art of mindfulness, or being present, to help cope with modern eating problems. It’s not a diet. There are no menus or food restrictions. It is developing a new mindset around food.
The good news is that mindful eating can help binge eaters as well as many other eating issues. During the past 20 years, studies have found that mindful eating can help you to 1) reduce overeating and binge eating, 2) lose weight and reduce your body mass index (BMI), 3) cope with chronic eating problems such as anorexia and bulimia, and reduce anxious thoughts about food and your body and 4) improve the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes. Thus, it has many benefits!
Intuitively, it makes sense that mindful eating is helpful to over eaters. It slows you down, makes you more aware of portion sizes and helps you get out of negative, automatic food habits like overeating while watching your favorite TV show. So how does it also help people who have other problematic eating habits?
In a nutshell, whether you are overeating or being overly restrictive when you diet, it’s likely that you have lost track of your hunger and fullness. This break between your body and mind needs to be healed. Mindful eating can generally help in three ways:
1) Mindful eating plugs you back into your body’s cues so you know when to stop and start eating. This can be such a difficult task if your sense of hunger and fullness has been skewed or warped by large restaurant portions, fad diets or comfort eating.
2) Being mindful can bring about better management of your emotions. Sometimes people restrict or overeat as a way to cope with negative feelings. Eating and not eating can distract you from your worries. When you have healthier ways of coping, such as mindful breathing and letting go of anxiety, you may no longer manage your emotions through your food choices. You can tolerate your emotions, as uncomfortable as they may be, without pushing them away or stuffing them down with food.
3) Mindfulness changes the way you think. Rather than reacting to food-related thoughts that urge you to overeat, overly restrict your diet or emotionally eat, etc., you respond to them. You can hear these thoughts without obeying them.
So if you aren’t binge eating, don’t worry. Mindful eating can be helpful to almost everyone.
Ways to Get Started
1. Just Be Mindful. Being more attentive and aware in all aspects of your life can help you to improve your eating habits. This is good news if you aren’t ready to change what you put on your plate. Start by being more mentally present with your significant other, put away your cell phone and be more engaged with what you are doing and do one thing at a time instead of multitasking. When you are ready to change your meal habits, you will have more practice on how to be attentive and present. It’s easy to eat an entire plate of food and not taste one bite.
2. The Four Mindful Points: Check in with each dimension of mindfulness. When you eat, ask yourself these questions:
a. Mind: Am I tasting each bite or am I zoned out when I eat?
b. Body: How does my body feel before and after I eat? Low energy? Stomach rumbling? Full? Empty?
c. Feeling: What do I feel about this food? Guilty? Pleasure? Joy? Disappointment? Regret?
d. Thoughts: What thoughts does this food bring to mind? Memories? Beliefs? Myths? Fears?
We might need to give a chance to try mindful eating, which can be one key to turning around all of our unhealthy eating patterns. Eat, drink and be mindful!
The core principles of mindful eating include being aware of the nourishment available through the process of food preparation and consumption, choosing enjoyable and nutritious foods, acknowledging food preferences nonjudgmentally, recognizing and honoring physical hunger and satiety cues, and using wisdom to guide eating decisions.
“Either you’re physically hungry or there’s another trigger for eating,” says Megrette Fletcher, MEd, RD, CDE, cofounder of The Center for Mindful Eating. “Mindful awareness helps people notice their direct experiences.”
Michelle May, MD, founder of the mindful eating workshops “Am I Hungry?” believes awareness of food and the eating process is a necessary component that facilitates behavior change. “Many of the habits that drive overeating are unconscious behaviors that people have repeated for years, and they act them out without even realizing it,” she says. “The process of mindfulness allows a person to wake up and be aware of what they’re doing. Once you’re aware, you can change your actions.” A visual representation of this eating concept is the “Am I Hungry?” Mindful Eating Cycle (see diagram).
Since most people eat for reasons other than physical hunger, the first question of “Why do I eat?” is often central to ultimately changing behavior.
• “Why do I eat?” may include an exploration of triggers such as physical hunger, challenging situations, or visual cues, which often spring from stress, fatigue, or boredom.
• “When do I want to eat?” The answer may depend on the clock, physical hunger cues, or emotions.
• “What do I eat?” examines the factors people consider when choosing food, such as convenience, taste, comfort, and nutrition.
• “How do I eat?” Is eating rushed, mindful, distracted, or secretive? In our technological, on-the-go society, exploring the process of eating can be eye-opening.
• “How much do I eat?” Quantity may be decided by physical fullness cues, package size, or habit.
• “Where does the energy go?” Eating may be invigorating, cause sluggishness, or lead to guilt and shame. How is the energy used during work or play?
We can ask ourselves these questions daily to boost awareness of the factors guiding our eating decisions. “Asking ‘Am I hungry?’ puts a pause between a trigger and a response,” May says. “That gap breaks us out of ineffective, habitual patterns and gives us an opportunity to change old behaviors.”
Ideally, these mindful eating techniques should be used as a framework to give us additional insight into our eating patterns and not be used as a tool to dictate an appropriate chain of responses. As mentioned, a key component of mindful eating is nonjudgmental awareness of eating patterns. So if the answer to “Why do I eat?” is “Because I’m bored,” there are no rules we should have to follow commanding which foods are permissible or how much we should eat. Instead, the answers should be viewed simply as information to help us make informed choices.