Mindful Eating, what is it?

“Mindfulness” is a term that became popular in American culture due to the spread of Buddhist psychology and mindfulness meditation in the West during the 60’s. “Mindfulness”, at its core, is a self-reflective process that seeks to identify and remove unhealthy patterns from one’s life. In recent years, the term “mindfulness” has been frequently used in popular media, especially in the context of eating for health and weight loss. Case in point: “mindful eating”, which has practical applications in healthy weight loss.

Essentially, “mindful eating” is a psychological practice that involves raising awareness in the following areas:

1.) Your motivation for eating

1a.) For example, are you eating because you are truly hungry, or because you are bored and desire the pleasurable distraction of food? Or, was the impetus for eating due to a restaurant commercial that triggered thoughts of food?

1i.) Becoming more aware of your motivation for eating helps you make wiser decisions on when to eat, and what to eat.

2.) Your intention to become healthier

2b.) For example, if your goal is weight loss, you have an intention to lose weight. In order to successfully lose weight, your intention will need to drive your behavior. In order for your intention to drive your behavior, you must bring your intention to a conscious level every day (i.e. remind yourself of the meaning behind your goal to lose weight).

2i.) A change in consciousness is a fundamental component of losing weight. In other words, beliefs and thoughts shape your actions.

3.) The direct experience of eating

3a.) For example, the taste of the food, the sensation of the food’s texture, and the sensation of fullness. When your mind is swept away with compelling thoughts of the past and future, you can daydream through an entire meal, hardly experiencing the food.

3i.) Focusing on the meal being eaten encourages slower eating, more enjoyment of the food, and a better sense of when you are full.  All these factors can help prevent over-eating.

4.) Negative relationships with food

4a.) For example, many people eat as a coping mechanism for stress, despite lack of genuine hunger [1]. The comfort of food can provide a powerful distraction from stressful thoughts and situations. Other examples of negative relationships with food include dangerous eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa [2] and bulimia nervosa [3].

4i.) Negative relationships with food, when gone unchecked, can become destructive. If you believe you may have an eating disorder*, please consider seeing a therapist who specializes in the treatment and management of eating disorders.

*For more information on eating disorders, click this link [4].

Bottom line: By practicing mindful eating, you can strengthen your ability to realize unhealthy eating habits so that you can then make wiser decisions on what to eat, when to eat, and how to eat.

I am not an expert in this area, so if this is something that interests you, you can further investigate mindful eating by checking out the following resources:

Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Center for Mindful Eating


References

1.) Adam, T. C., & Epel, E. S. (2007). Stress, eating and the reward system. Physiology & Behavior, 91(4), 449-458.
http://www.foodaddictionsummit.org/documents/StressEatingandtheRewardSystem.pdf

2.) Morris J, Twaddle S. (2007) Anorexia nervosa. British Medical Journal. 334:894–898. doi: 10.1136/bmj.39171.616840.BE.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1857759/

3.) Rushing, J. M., Jones, L. E., & Carney, C. P. (2003). Bulimia nervosa: a primary care review. Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 5(5), 217.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC419300/

4.) National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (UK. (2004). Eating disorders: Core interventions in the treatment and management of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and related eating disorders. British Psychological Society (UK).
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0051859/