The holidays offer opportunities to gather with loved ones, exchange sentiments of gratitude, and fill our stomachs to the brim with delicious foods. Though an occasional indulgence is innocuous enough, many people carry these habits with them throughout the year. And with the quotidian distractions of a fast-paced world, remaining present while obtaining sustenance has gone to the wayside. Being fully aware of your body’s true physical hunger cues rather than mindlessly eating, especially after the slew of edible temptations this time of year has to offer, is a way to reclaim connection to your body and enhance your overall eating experience. Learn about the basics of mindful eating and how to truly appreciate your food.
WHAT IS MINDFUL EATING?
Based on a Zen Buddhist concept, mindfulness, on its own, is a type of mediation to keep one present and living intentionally.1 This form of mediation has been used to manage chronic pain and diseases, mental illnesses, and sleeping and cognition disorders.1,3,4 Additionally, mindfulness is used to recognize and decipher emotional and physical sensations.
Deriving from this concept, the aim of mindful eating is to stay present and fully aware while eating foodstuffs, experiencing cravings, and receiving physical hunger cues from the body. By ignoring certain elements of your food, such as the calorie count or amount of carbohydrates, mindful eating encourages focus on the sensation of food and “savoring the moment,” rather than on restriction or judgment of one’s self.1–4
THE FUNDAMENTALS OF MINDFUL EATING
At its core, mindful eating is about:1,2
- Learning to eat more slowly and without distraction
- Listening to physical hunger cues rather than emotion cues. Emotional cues could be a result of lifestyle factors, such as stress or boredom, or physiological/ mental factors, such as hormones, depression, or anxiety
- Eating until you begin to feel full (and avoiding overeating)
- Recognizing the differences between true hunger (physical) and non-hunger (emotional) cues, such as:
- Emotional eating: this kind of eating stems from emotional responses External Eating: When environment or food-related cues (e.g., the smell or sight of food) elicits a hunger response
- Noticing the color, smell, taste, sensation, and flavors of food, and appreciating all of these factors
- Coping and healing from any food-related guilt or anxiety
- Eating to maintain and improve health and overall well-being
- Enjoying your food.
These fundamentals allow individuals to alter automatic thoughts and reactions with more conscious and beneficial responses.
THE BENEFITS OF MINDFUL EATING1,2
With the many distractions today has to offer, eating can become a mindless function. Watching television, looking at your phone, and even reading a book or magazine hinders the intention of eating. These distractions can interfere with bodily cues, as it takes the mind at least 20 minutes to realize the body is full; eating too quickly delays the “fullness” signal to the brain, which is very common in binge eating disorders. Slowly and mindfully eating optimizes true physiological hunger signals, prevents overeating, and ensures
the experience is intentional, rather than automatic or mindless. Additionally, practicing mindful eating provides insight on the triggers that encourage eating when you’re not genuinely hungry.
Being aware of these triggers offers a moment of pause before engaging in an automatic eating response, allotting you the time and freedom to choose what your body needs. Moreover, mindful eating can reduce stress and alleviate some of the triggers that inspire non-hunger cues in the first place.
Though mindful eating oppresses diet culture and weight-loss methods, many researchers have suggested this form of meditation could aid in weight management. According to researchers, mindful eating is a safe and efficient treatment for overweight and obesity. Because many studies have demonstrated the positive impact mindfulness has on individuals with overweight or obesity,3,4 researchers believe mindful eating should be included in weight management programs.5 It can also be used to manage unhealthy eating behaviors (such as emotional and external eating).6
Integrating healthier dietary choices into your lifestyle has a myriad of benefits as well, such as reducing the risk certain chronic conditions such as inflammation, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer.1–4
HOW TO EAT MINDFULLY
- Eat slowly and avoid rushing, if possible.
- Thoroughly chew your food.
- Eliminate distractions.
- Focus on your feelings—How is this food making me feel?
- When you begin to feel full, stop eating.
- Evaluate the origin of hunger and food choices—Am I truly hungry? Is this food I am choosing healthful?
- Nelson JB. Mindful eating: The art of presence while you eat. Diabetes Spectr. 2017;30(3):171–174.
- Bulzacka E, Lavault S, Pelissolo A, Bagnis Isnard C. Mindful neuropsychology: Repenser la réhabilitation neuropsychologique à travers la pleine conscience [Mindful neuropsychology: Mindfulness-based cognitive remediation]. Encephale. 2018 Feb;44(1):75–82.
- Warren JM, Smith N, Ashwell M. A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: Effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutr Res Rev. 2017 Dec;30(2):272–283.
- Miller CK, Kristeller JL, Headings A, Nagaraja H, Miser WF. Comparative effectiveness of a mindful eating intervention to a diabetes self-management intervention among adults with type 2 diabetes: a pilot study. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012;112:1835–184.
- Carrière K, Khoury B, Günak MM, Knäuper B. Mindfulness-based interventions for weight loss: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2018 Feb;19(2):164–177.
- Dunn C, Haubenreiser M, Johnson M, et al. Mindfulness approaches and weight loss, weight maintenance, and weight regain. Curr Obes Rep. 2018 Mar;7(1):37–49.