Do you ever struggle with overeating? Or have the feeling like you just can't get full after a meal? This is a common issue that mindful eating can help with.
What is Mindful Eating?
You've likely heard the word "mindfulness" given it is a little bit of a buzz word these days. Mindfulness is a practice based on Zen Buddhism and has been defined by Jon Kabat-Zin, PHD, as "paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally"(1). This practice has has been used to help people mange chronic pain, depression, disease, sleeping problems, and anxiety (1). When used with eating, mindfulness can help to change eating behaviors and gain awareness of our eating experiences (1).
The intent behind mindful eating is to help you savor the moment and food by encouraging you to be present with eating. The main focus of mindful eating isn't necessarily weight loss, but it can be a result (1).
Mindful Eating Benefits (1,2,3):
- Increased enjoyment in the food you are eating
- Helps prevent overeating
- Improves digestion
- Can result in weight loss
Mindful Eating & Weight Loss
Even though weight loss may occur when you practice mindful eating, it is NOT a diet.
Have you ever felt like because you went out with friends and ate something that wasn't allowed on your diet that you "failed"? This is a common feeling when people are dieting and can create a sense of shame and hopelessness. Because mindful eating is focused on the process instead of the outcomes, there is no "failing".
If you've ever wondered why there are so many diets out there, it's because most of them don't work. Unfortunately, they often result in temporary weight loss that tends to come back with vengeance. This is because most diets only look at changing what somebody is eating and forget to look at the "how" or "why" of eating behaviors. By looking at the "how" and "why", you can identify where behaviors need to change, which results in lasting instead of temporary improvements .
You may be wondering what the "how" or "why" of eating even is. These are all the behaviors surrounding your eating that have very little to do with the actual food. If these behaviors are not looked at closely, they can contribute to the yo-yo diet trap (where you are stuck in a cycle of gaining and losing weight while trying a different diet each time).
To start practicing more mindful eating today, try asking yourself the following questions the next time you eat:
- Why are you eating right now?
- Are you actually hungry?
- Or are you bored, sad, stressed, anxious, etc.?
- Are you actually hungry?
- What are you eating?
- How did you decide to eat what you are eating?
- Are you eating it because it actually sounds good or because you think it is the "healthy" choice?
- Pay attention to aromas, textures, flavors, and if you like or dislike the food. This will help bring awareness to your eating.
- Where are you eating?
- Are you eating somewhere that is meant to eating and help you to enjoy your food?
- When are you eating?
- Do you ever eat just based out of habit?
- i.e. eating at 12pm because it's "lunch time" or eating when you sit down on the couch at night even if you aren't hungry.
- Do you ever eat just based out of habit?
- How are you eating?
- Are you taking time to chew and eat slowly or are you rushing through your meal?
- Are you distracted? i.e. eating in front of your computer, the TV, while you are chasing the kids around the house.
- How much are you eating?
- Are you eating the right amount to satisfy your hunger?
- Are you eating past the point of comfort?
- Are you not eating enough and constantly thinking about going back for more food?
You may have noticed that mindful eating doesn't focus on calories, carbohydrates, protein, etc. That's because most of us know what foods would be considered "healthy", but instead struggle with our behaviors around food. Reaching a healthy weight that is right for you and having a healthy relationship with food results from combining food changes with behavior changes
Restrictive Diets and Overeating
Have you ever wanted something to eat and went to the kitchen and ignored what you really wanted and instead chose the the "healthy" food? This happens a lot and when it does, most people find themselves wanting to keep going back for more food. You may even end up back in the kitchen several times before you feel truly satisfied. This is likely because you forced yourself to eat something that complied with the rules of your diet and not what you were truly wanting to eat. This can lead to eating more food than if you just went for the food you really wanted to begin with. Instead of following restrictive diet rules, what if you went for the food you really wanted, ate it mindfully, truly enjoyed it, and moved on with your day? Doesn't that sound lovely??
In my opinion, eating healthy is finding the balance between eating what sounds good and eating what is going to nourish your body and make you physically feel good.
Mindful eating is more about reconnecting with yourself than following a set of rules or food restriction (3). It is about appreciating food rather than restriction and rules about when and what to eat (1).
4 Steps to Practice Mindful Eating Today
- Check in with yourself before and after meals
Before eating, take a moment to check in with yourself. Is it physical hunger you are feeling or are you stressed, bored, angry, lonely, or sad? If you aren't responding to physical hunger, try and do something more appropriate for that feeling.
Do the same after meals. Did you enjoy what you ate? Are you still hungry? Are you overly full? Try and answer those questions without judgement. This can be a good learning experience for the future.
2. Pay attention while eating
Have you ever eaten a meal in front of your computer and looked down and are shocked to see the meal is gone? When this happens we may not feel mentally satisfied after eating, even though we may be physically satisfied. This usually means we are more likely to go back for seconds or graze throughout the afternoon even if we are no longer physically hungry.
Practicing more mindful eating means eating without phones, TVs, computers, etc. This is a tough one but I think we can agree that most of us have been a victim to distracted eating at some point or another.
3. Eat slowly and savor your food
When you slow down and savor your good you may realize that you don't actually like some of the things you had been eating - you're just eating them because you feel like you should. If you do like your food, slowing down and savoring will make it that much more enjoyable.
4. Learn your body's personal hunger signals
Often times we eat for reasons other than hunger - i.e. eating at 12pm because it's "lunch time" or because we are responding to emotional triggers. Try and tune into what your true hunger feels like and eat based on those cues.