One of the most popular diets or anti-diet philosophies that is becoming more and more popular right now is the diet or lifestyle approach of mindfulness, specifically intuitive or mindful eating. This approach to your diet and lifestyle is not a fad diet, a trend, or a quick fix. It is a philosophy that is intended to change your approach to eating and mend your relationship to food. Many people who have tried many different crash diets, exercise programs and meal plans have had a lot of trouble maintaining a healthy relationship with food, body image and enjoyment of their life in regards to diet culture and societal pressure to look, eat, and fit into a certain pre-constructed idea. Mindful eating research has shown that mindful eating benefits a lot of people who have had problems sticking to healthy eating practices and want to improve their quality of life and become healthier in many ways.
Mindful Eating Definition: What Is Mindful Eating?
So you’ve read that mindful eating is a beneficial approach to diet and food, but what is mindful eating? To define mindful eating, It is a non-judgmental awareness of physical and emotional sensations associated with eating. Mindful eating is an approach to eating that puts mindfulness and awareness at the forefront of any eating experience. In the same way that you could be mindful about your emotional state, about your interactions with others or while you’re working or practicing a skill, mindfulness is a helpful tool of awareness and self acceptance. In order to be mindful you must practice non-judgmental awareness. So in order to practice and reap the benefits of mindful eating you be in tune with your thoughts, emotions and sensations surrounding food, acknowledging them and either letting them go or letting them guide you through the experience. You will want to let go of any negative thoughts surrounding food when eating, especially those that come from diet culture like “Eating this food will make me fat”, “I won’t be able to stop eating that once I start”, or “I am ashamed of myself for eating this, I’ve done something bad.”
Mindful eating can be a treatment for eating disorders of all kinds because it’s goal is to realign your ideas and motivations behind eating with the natural cues that come from your body instead of potentially harmful behaviors in response to intrusive thoughts or diet culture talk. Mindful eating techniques can help you enjoy eating instead of rushing through meals without tasting one bite, eating things based on what a crash diet pamphlet told you to and then feeling hopeless and shameful for overeating, feeling out of control when it comes to eating or feeling like eating is a chore or an anxiety producing task. In order to prevent these negative thoughts, emotions and sometimes physical feelings of being too hungry or too full, mindful eating exercises help you tune into your body and sense when you’re hungry, when you’re full and how to really experience your meals in the fullest way without eating too little or too much. This mindful eating cycle of checking in with yourself when you’re hungry, while you’re eating and after you’ve eaten to satiety can be helpful to all who practice it regardless of age, gender or nationality and it can be beneficial to anyone regardless of whether you’ve had or currently have an eating disorder or a negative relationship with food.
Benefits of Mindful Eating vs Dieting
While I want to make it very clear that mindful eating is not like dieting in the sense that it is more about how you eat your food than what kind of food you’re eating, there are still benefits of mindful eating that mimic the results people wish to get from going on a diet. Mindful eating is not the mindful eating diet. There aren’t mindful eating recipes in the way that there would be Keto recipes or Paleo recipes. Instead if you want to follow a recipe and practice mindful eating, you would do thought exercises around how to be mindful while you’re cooking, to slow down and enjoy the practice without distraction or judgment. Dieting, especially fad dieting or crash dieting, typically doesn’t work. People who lose weight using restrictive diets typically gain all of the weight back in the next five years after they lose it. Mindful eating, however, does not focus specifically on losing weight or changing your body through food. Instead it aims to make you avoid negative emotions and concepts surrounding food by being aware of what foods make you feel good, when you’re hungry and when you’re full and don’t need to eat anymore food. It takes away the yo-yo from yo-yo diets by maintaining consistency instead of a cycle of restricting and bingeing. All of this said, as a result of being mindful in your eating practices, you are more likely to eat foods that make your body feel good and to eat the amount of food that your body needs which can regulate a person’s weight to a healthy place. So while some people do lose weight after adopting the mindful eating practices, mindful eating for weight loss isn’t usually the only goal. Because of the importance placed on enjoying food and building a good relationship with eating, it is less likely that the mindful eating weight loss will be regained because mindful eating is not restrictive and is a lifelong practice.
Mindful Eating and Eating Disorders
There are a lot of mindful eating success stories when it comes to people dealing with disordered eating. This practice is helpful for people suffering from anorexia or bulimia because it can over time take away the fear response associated with eating or eating certain kinds of foods as well as allow the brain to understand internal cues of hunger and satiety which can often get lost as a result of an eating disorder. Mindful eating is also proven to be extremely beneficial for those with binge eating disorder for some of the same reasons. When you no longer associate food with negative emotions it is easier to maintain a healthy outlook on food and eating and have a healthier body and mind. If you or a loved one are struggling with disordered eating, take a look at the activity on mindful eating from the NEA as well as their list of resources.
How to Practice Mindful Eating
You can practice mindful eating at any time and for as long as you live. As simple as it may sound, the trick to mindful eating is to be mindful. It isn’t as easy as just committing to the concept and there are many mindful eating tips and mindful eating practices to learn before you become an expert. The range of resources available for practicing mindful eating can go from a mindful eating retreat to a personal mindful eating program to a simple mindful eating checklist. To learn more about how to practice mindful eating, there are many books, infographics, tools, checklists and activities that you can use to better inform your awareness and self reflection.
Mindful Eating vs Intuitive Eating
Mindful eating and intuitive eating are two different but related things. Mindful eating can help you get to a place of intuitive eating because it can bring you into a better understanding of your intuitions and physical cues surrounding food. Mindful eating is the practice of non-judgmental awareness and attention to the sensations and cues surrounding hunger, satiety and food, while intuitive eating is about following your intuition to know when to eat, what to eat, and how much. Intuitive eating does not revolve around the practice of engaging your senses while you’re eating or setting specific time for eating, confronting negative emotions and feelings around food or implementing a mindful eating questionnaire surrounding your eating habits. The two do work in tandem when you use your intuition to tell you what kind of foods you want to eat and when you’re hungry or full. This being said, mindful eating can be a goal oriented or health oriented process while intuitive eating is a tool in rejecting diet culture and rules around eating.
Mindful Eating Cycle
To learn more about mindful eating, and the tools that can be used to implement it, check out the mindful eating cycle. This tool is helpful in running diagnostics on your physical and emotional experiences surrounding eating and can allow you to make the best judgments based on your ability to be in tune with your body and aware of your mental state.
Mindful Eating Exercises and Activities
There are plenty of mindful eating exercises and activities out there that can really help you get a grasp of how mindful eating works and how it can benefit everyone. Let’s start with a pretty basic exercise, similar to the famous raisin exercise but instead of a raisin let’s talk about a grape just for a little extra hydration and because I don’t really like raisins. So in this exercise, you are to have a single grape. Once you have the single grape in your hands, use your senses and non-judgemental awareness to practice mindful eating with this single grape. First, look at the grape, see how the light bounces off of it or goes through it, look closely at it’s skin, it’s color, the curvature of it and if there are any asymmetries or perfect imperfections that the grape has. Next feel the grape with your hands, feel the smoothness, maybe the coldness, the feeling of the skin on your fingers and how it feels to gently squeeze the grape. After this you can put the grape up to your nose. See if you can distinguish any scent coming from the grape and what that scent is like. Then before putting the grape in your mouth, feel the grape with your lips, which are more sensitive than your fingers. Then once you put it into your mouth, don’t chew it yet. Simply experience what it’s like to feel the grape in your mouth, if there is any taste to the grape before chewing. Then slowly chew the grape, paying attention to the sounds, tastes, feeling and sensations of the first few chews. Chew slowly, tasting and experiencing the sensation of eating this grape. See if you can sense the need to swallow before it happens. Once you have chewed and swallowed the grape, take a moment to experience the way you feel after having eaten the grape. Did it leave a flavor on your tongue? Did it leave you with an emotion? Become aware of your body’s response to the grape in a non-judgmental way. This is how to approach mindful eating for all consumption of food. Simple non-judgmental awareness which can lead to greater fulfillment and enjoyment.
Mindful Eating Plate
The mindful eating plate is an infographic and a mindful eating activity that can help people understand the tools they need to practice mindful eating. This mindful eating checklist can be found just a quick search online and it can help you remember five important pillars of mindful eating meditation. These pillars are Observe, Savor, Non-Judgment, In-The-Moment and Aware, with additional information about each concept. It was created by mindful eating expert Susan Albers who has written mindful eating books like Hanger Management, and 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food. These are some of the best mindful eating books and you find great quotes on mindful eating and mindful eating training tips.
Mindful Eating Questionnaire and Mindful Eating Hunger Scale
A large study was created to understand people’s response and mindfulness surrounding eating called the mindful eating questionnaire or MEQ. Many subsequent studies of the response to this questionnaire have been and continue to be made to assess the way that people in our society treat eating and the emotions surrounding food. This questionnaire took participants through a series of questions which they rate on a scale in order to test their experiences with food and how mindful they are about eating and meals. Questions like “I eat so quickly that I don’t taste what I’m eating” are rated from a scale of one to four, one being never or rarely and four being frequently or often. The answers were later calculated to form an MEQ score. People who had scores that highlighted a lack of mindfulness were given the tools they needed to become more mindful and score differently the next time they took the test. There are also other tracking guides and diagnostic tests such as the hunger scale which can help people understand how hungry they are and how much their body needs to eat.
Tips and Strategies to Create Mindful Eating Habits
Mindful eating may be great, but it isn’t always easy. That being said there are plenty of strategies you can implement to help yourself stay on track. Remove any distractions when you’re eating, meaning no screens. Put your phone away, turn off the TV and step away from the computer. If you’re having a conversation with someone, put down your fork while you talk to avoid distraction while eating. When the holidays come around, don’t lose focus on the fact that mindfulness is important. Mindful eating during the holidays can actually improve your holiday experience as long as you practice gratitude, non-judgement, and allow yourself to eat the delicious treats you want without overindulging to the point of feeling sick. You can also download a mindful eating app like the one by Dr. Susan Albers called Eat Drink and Be Mindful, or apps like MindfulEatingTracker which helps you track mindfulness, sensations and emotions surrounding the foods you eat.
Additional Useful Charts and Checklists
There are so many great guides to mindful eating that can be found online including mindful eating apps, websites, charts and checklists. Check out positive psychology’s extensive guide of 58 Science based exercises on mindful eating included lots of checklists and links to additional tools and useful guides.