What does it mean to eat mindfully?
What is Mindful Eating?
By now you have probably heard of the term “Mindfulness,” or the capacity to bring full attention and awareness to one’s experience, in the moment, without judgment. The practice of mindfulness has helped many people live more intentionally and improve quality of life. In fact, research has shown that mindfulness has provided numerous benefits for patients with cardiovascular disease, depression, stress, chronic pain, and cancer. Mindfulness can be incorporated into everyday life through many different methods. One of these is doing something that we as humans engage in multiple times a day — eating!
Applied to eating, mindfulness is becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations related to food consumption, reconnecting us with our native insights about hunger and satiety. Mindful eating brings mindfulness to food choice and the experience of eating. When you eat mindfully, you learn to pay attention to things such as why you feel like eating and what emotions prompted the eating. For example, noticing the colors, smells, flavors, and textures of your food; chewing slowly; getting rid of distractions like electronics; and learning to better manage guilt or anxiety towards food. On the other hand, eating mindlessly can be defined as eating without paying attention to what and how much is being eaten.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
Mindful eating has been shown to provide many benefits for individuals including weight loss, mental health improvements, and chronic disease management. A study examining a mindful based eating program called “Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training,” (MB-EAT) found that the number of binge-eating occurrences among participants decreased from an average of four per week to about one and a half, and that many patients no longer met the diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder post study. Another study that examined participants who used MB-EAT techniques found that at post program, participants experienced significant reductions in binge-eating episodes and improvements in depression.
Additionally, MB-EAT has been applied to reduce stress eating and cortisol levels. One study found that obese participants experienced lower cortisol levels and decreased anxiety post study; however no significant changes were found in weight from baseline measurements. On the other hand, the control group gained a significant amount of weight during the study. Participants who reported the greatest decrease in stress also showed the largest decreases in abdominal fat, which may be beneficial for reducing the risk of developing metabolic syndrome over time.
MB-EAT has also been modified to target diabetes. In a randomized, prospective controlled study called MB-EAT-D, the first group of participants practiced mindful eating exercises and meditation and were taught basic information about nutrition and diabetes. The second group received counseling on diabetes self-management, caloric needs, goal setting, and exercise. While both groups had significant weight loss, improved glycemic control, increased fiber intake, and lower trans-fat and sugar consumption at the end of the study, there were no significant differences in weight or glycemic control between the two groups. This finding suggests that mindful eating-based techniques can provide alternative treatment options for someone with diabetes.
Tips to Eat More Mindfully
Practicing mindful eating can help us to cultivate a healthier relationship with food. By committing to eating more slowly and intentionally, we can make a positive change in our diets and health, and as a result, more fully enjoy the practice of eating. Try incorporating some of the strategies below next time you pick up your fork or spoon!
- Set aside time to eat. Find a calm eating environment to help limit interruptions.
- Reflect. Before you take that first bite, take a minute to reflect and notice how you feel. Then decide if you want to eat, what you want to eat, and how you want to eat.
- Don’t eat on the go if possible. It’s physically less satisfying and it’s harder to keep track of how much you have eaten, potentially leading to overeating.
- Avoid eating straight from the box or bag and measure out your portions ahead of time.
- Make a conscious effort to take small bites, chew slowly, and concentrate on the flavors and textures of your food.
- Don’t multitask, watch TV, talk on the phone, or check social media. Focus on the meal in front of you.
- Finish chewing and swallowing each bite before putting more food on your fork or spoon.
- Take sips of water after every few bites to help increase satiety and to slow down.