Note: We are so lucky to have the expertise of Casey Berglund, RD, RYT – a practicing dietitian AND yoga teacher – in this guest post on incorporating mindful eating into your everyday.
Have you ever followed a rigid diet only to find yourself so deprived you overindulge in your favorite treats? Maybe you plan to just eat one piece of chocolate, and then before you know it the whole bar is gone… and the guilt follows. Sound familiar? Do your family members say “wow, you ate that fast – did you remember to breathe?” If you can relate, you may benefit from practicing mindfulness.
Mindless eating is the act of consuming food without focus on the act of eating, often in the absence of actual hunger, at a rapid rate and/or past the point of fullness. On the contrary, mindful eating describes a non-judgmental awareness of the physical and emotional sensations associated with eating, with a focus on being in the present moment and without distractions (1).
It seems individuals have become more reliant on the outside world for information about food and eating, which can actually cause problems (you certainly can’t trust food marketers for the best nutrition information! – see previous posts Selling Obesity parts 1 and 2). Folks can be very disconnected from their own deeply rooted wisdom. Mindfulness-based practices, which include mindful eating, can help individuals re-connect with their wisdom to find peace in their relationships with food and with their bodies.
Why bother with mindful eating? Cultures have been using mindfulness-based practices for thousands of years, but it is not until fairly recently that modern psychologists and health researchers have begun to study how similar practices may affect current populations. In case you are not sold on this mindful eating business, take a look at some of the evidence:
- In obese participants, training in mindfulness meditation, mindful eating, and group discussion resulted in significant changes in eating behavior, psychological distress, and weight (2).
- When combined with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), mindful eating, formal seated meditations, and informal mindfulness practices, significantly reduced binge eating episodes and improved quality of life in patients with Binge Eating Disorder (3).
- In a non-clinical sample of women with disordered eating behaviors, food cravings, ‘all-or-none’ thinking, poor body image, emotional eating, and external eating (eating in response to external food cues – i.e. seeing and smelling food) were significantly reduced, following an 8-week mindfulness-based intervention (4).
- An intervention which included mindful eating meditations, education about calories and fat in restaurant foods and behaviour change strategies, was effective in promoting weight management in women aged 40 to 59, who ate out three or more times per week (5).
- Aspects of mindfulness – including acting with awareness, as well as non-reactivity, non-judgment, and describing of inner experiences – were inversely correlated with eating pathology in a group of undergraduate women (6).
Overall, it is clear that mindfulness-based practices, including mindful eating, can have a role in assisting individuals with overcoming undesirable food behaviors and promoting physical and psychological health (1-6).
How do you eat more mindfully? The following suggestions have been modified from Jean Kristeller, PhD and co-founder of The Centre for Mindful Eating (www.tcme.org):
Slow down the pace of eating. Some strategies to slow down include: chewing more, putting your fork down between bites, and taking breaths at various intervals throughout your meals.
Eat away from distractions. When eating, turn off the television, take a break from your work, avoid talking on the telephone, and DON’T DRIVE (there are laws against that, you know)!
Become aware of your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Get away from following a regimented diet plan and begin to trust yourself. It may take time to recognize internal cues, but be patient and stay committed!
Pay attention to responses to food without judgment. Be the observer. Notice if you like, dislike, or feel neutral toward certain foods but forget the judging or analyzing that all-so-often follows your initial response.
Choose to eat food that is both pleasing and nourishing. Use all of your senses while eating. Take time to notice the food’s colour, shape, smell, texture, taste, and any associated sounds with preparation or consumption.
Be aware of the effects of mindLESS eating. Often people notice that they eat more when they eat mindlessly, that food is enjoyed less, or that weight gain persists.
Begin and/or maintain a meditation practice. Not only can meditation be an integral component of mindful eating, but scientists also recognize many other benefits.
Mindful eating can be very rewarding and assist you in achieving your weight and health goals. What better time to practice mindfulness techniques, than as the food-filled holidays approach?
- Framson C, Kristal AR, Schenk JM, Littman AJ, Zeliadt S, Benitez D. Development and validation of the Mindful Eating Questionnaire. J Am Diet Assoc 2009; 109:1439-44.
- Dalen J, Smith BW, Shelley BM. Pilot study: Mindful Eating and Living (MEAL): Weight, eating behavior, and psychological outcomes associated with a mindfulness-based intervention for people with obesity. Complement Ther Med 2010; 18:260-4.
- Woolhouse H, Knowles A, Crafti N. Adding mindfulness to CBT programs for binge eating: a mixed-methods evaluation. Eat Disord J Treat Prev 2012; 20:321-39.
- Alberts HJEM, Thewissen R, Raes L. Dealing with problematic eating behaviour. The effects of a mindfulness-based intervention on eating behaviour, food cravings, dichotomous thinking and body image concern. Appetite 2012; 58:847-51.
- Timmerman GM, Brown A. The effect of a mindful restaurant eating intervention on weight management in women. Nutr Educ Behav 2012; 4:22-8.
- Lavender J, Gratz K, Tull M. Exploring the Relationship between Facets of Mindfulness and Eating Pathology in Women. Cogn Behav Ther 2011; 40:174-82.