Do you consciously consider everything you eat? Eating is not just about what you are choosing to put in your mouth, but also about how you do it. Mindful eating helps you to control your eating habits, reduce binge eating, and promotes weight loss.
How does it work?
Mindfulness is “a process of bringing a certain level and quality of attention to a moment-by-moment eating experience”. (source: Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition). It is therefore a concept that emphasizes recognition and awareness of your physical sensations and emotions, resulting in self-regulation during the process of eating.
Research shows that practicing mindfulness can reduce eating disorders, cravings, regulate hunger cues and manage harmful eating disorders. Mindfulness is also useful for managing conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Mindful eating encompasses the following practices:
- Eating slowly and deliberately
- Avoiding distractions during meals
- Paying attention to hunger cues when eating, to avoid over eating
- Distinguishing true hunger triggers vs emotional triggers
- Sensory eating: Appreciating the flavors, smell, texture and color of food
- Eating for health and fuel
- Noticing how food affects your body, feelings, mood, and physical performance
As a result, instead of reacting automatically when you think of hunger or food, your response become more conscious, and therefore healthier.
Why practicing mindful eating is important
Appreciate your meal
Today’s society is abundant with food choices, most of which are not healthy. More so, we don’t think about what we are eating, nor do we fully appreciate our food, because we are constantly watching something on the computer, tv or phone. In other words, we have turned eating into a mindless act.
Avoid over eating
It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register fullness, so when you eat too fast, you may end up eating too much before the brain has had enough time to register that you are full. Eating should be done slowly and deliberately.
Respond to the right hunger cues
Mindful eating also allows you to recognize true hunger as opposed to emotional hunger. Emotional hunger makes you eat even when you are not actually hungry. Your reaction to boredom for instance, may be to eat a snack. When you feel agitated, you may eat some ice cream to make you feel better.
All these are examples of emotional eating and when you recognize them for what they are, eating will be an action triggered by the right physical cues.
The role of mindful eating in addressing stress-related eating
A good percentage of people lose weight only to gain it all back, sometimes surpassing their initial weight. Research on dietary treatment of obesity showed a 15% long term success rate, with 85% of participants regaining weight within a few years. The study concluded that diet alone cannot achieve long term gain.
What this means is that diet addresses the symptom, but not the causes of obesity, such as binge eating, food cravings, emotional eating, ect. Diet also doesn’t address underlying factors such as stress and anxiety, yet stress has been linked to overeating. Stress has also been shown to increase cortisol production, which can lead to accumulation of abdominal fat. Scientists now advocate for mindful eating therapy to address the underlying causes of obesity, such as psychological stress. In a nutshell, mindful eating promotes weight loss by addressing undesirable eating behaviors.
The role of mindful eating in Controlling binge eating
Binge eating refers to eating large quantities of food, without the ability to control yourself, and within a short period of time. Binge eating leads to weight gain and obesity but as studies have shown, mindful eating can help to decrease the severity and rate of binge eating.
How to practice mindful eating in everyday life
- Listen to your hunger signals and identify the triggers (physical vs emotional as discussed above)
- Eat slowly, chew deliberately and thoroughly, don’t rush the process.
- Don’t eat while watching TV, working on your computer, or using your phone
- Stop eating when you receive the fullness signal
It’s always easy to resist new habits. If you are used to eating in front of the TV, then eating at the dinner table might feel strange. If you are used to the gratification that comes from binge eating, living without this habit might feel impossible. But nothing is impossible. You owe it to yourself to try changing any bad eating habits you have. If it feels difficult at first, only focus on changing your habits during one meal, preferably dinner. Practice mindfulness during that meal for a few days and once you are familiar with the feeling, you can introduce mindful eating to your other meals. It’s also important to introduce your family to what you are trying to accomplish. This way, they can support you and hopefully adopt the habits themselves.