What is mindful eating?
you have probably already heard of the term Mindful Eating. But what is mindful eating exactly? for many people, it is still a vague and abstract term. let’s make it a bit more understandable, and most importantly: practical.
In 1991, Jon Kabat-Zinn denifined the term “mindfulness” as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, without any judgement” (1).
Until Today, the practice of mindfulness has already helped thousands of people to live a more intentional life and to develop skills that play a big role in managing chronic pain, disease, depression, sleeping problems, and anxiety. Nowadays, it also has become an approach to food and eating with the aim to increase your positive behaviour towards food choices and eating. It is generally known that, without behaviour change, implementing a new diet or lifestyle is basically impossible (2).
the definition of mindful eating
Simply put, Mindful eating means: eating with full awareness, feeding all your senses.
Mindful eating is a technique that helps you to be fully present and conscious about why, what, and how you are eating. It is about engaging all your senses into all practices that involves food. Practicing this technique helps you to acknowledge and manage your physical sensations and emotions. By doing so, you develop full awareness of your experiences, cravings, and physical sensations while eating. This makes it easier to truly enjoy a meal, to realize when you’ve had enough, to notice the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger, and to acknowledge what your body needs at a specific moment.
Once you start to bring your full attention to the entire experience of food and eating, you are able to get out of your thinking mind. You then free yourself from complicated emotions you might have around food.
The benefits of mindful eating
Mindful eating is still a relative innovative approach that helps clients to eat healthier and improve their overall health. Besides allowing you to better enjoy & appreciate food, this technique has been implemented as an effective approach to the treatment and improvement of a variety of psychological problems. Mindful eating interventions have been found effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress (3).
Besides this, it has been researched that mindful eating and increasing awareness of food and eating …
… is associated with better reversal learning and increased behavioural flexibility, and can therefore play a role in overcoming compulsive eating (4).
… has positive effects on hemoglobin A1C HbA1C, thus on blood glucose control (5). This may be very effective in Diabetes Type 2 self-management.
… encourages proper digestion and nutrient absorption leading to a healthier brain-gut connection (7).
… develops a healthier relationship with food.
… leads to an increased motivation in making healthier food choices (8).
In other words, there is growing evidence that practicing mindfulness in your eating behaviour is associated with improvements in both mental as physical wellbeing.
Mindful Eating in practice
Like meditation, mindful eating is a skill and at the same time a behavioural change. Learning a new skill and changing habits requires time, patience, and consistent practice. Since it is probably a completely new approach towards food than you’ve been familiar with so far, it might feel a bit unnatural or even odd at first. It is important to acknowledge the fact that there is not one right or wrong approach to mindful eating and to allow yourself time.
There are different approaches when it comes to being more aware of your food experiences. However, there are certain steps and actions you can take to practice mindful eating:
Firstly, accept the fact that everyone’s eating behaviours and experiences are unique.
Eat on a moment-to-moment basis.
Recognize to what extent you currently make food choices that nourish your body, and therefore support your health and well-being.
Try to eat more slowly. How? Take breaks during bites, chew thoroughly, take a break to breath and rate your fullness.
Eat without distractions. Don’t eat in front of your TV, computer or phone screen.
Practice gratitude towards your plate. Be consciously grateful for the fact you have access to food, whereas way too many people on the earth don’t.
Avoid eating on the way. There are too many distractions when you eat in your car or while walking.
Try to pay attention to your hunger signals and to how satisfied you are feeling. How does your body let you know when it’s hungry or satisfied?
Use these signals to decide when to start and when to stop eating.
Before you start eating, pay attention to the food its structure, and smell. Also, have some thoughts on the origin of your food. Is it a natural product?
Observe your sensational responses to foods in a non-judgemental way.
Become aware of unmindful eating moments and reflect on what exactly triggers these moments and the effects caused by unmindful eating (eating out of boredom or sadness, overeating to the point of being uncomfortable) (9).
Remember: the more you practice mindfulness, the easier and more natural it becomes. And we are here to help you with that!
1: Kabat-Zinn J. Full Catastrophe Living. New York, N.Y, Dell Publishing. 1991
2: Joseph B. Nelson. Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat. Diabetes Spectr. 2017 Aug; 30(3): 171–174.
3: Khoury B, et al. Mindfulness-based therapy: A comprehensive meta-analysis. Clin. Psychol. Rev. 2013;33:763–771.
4: Janssen, LK. Greater mindful eating practice is associated with better reversal learning. Sci Rep. 2018; 8: 5702.
5: Rubin, R. The benefits of mindful eating. Diabetes Self Manag., vol. 31, no. 3, 2014, pp. 20, 22-25.
6: Olson, KL, Emery, C.F.. Mindfulness and weight loss: a systematic review. Psychosom Med. 2015 Jan; 77(1):59-67.
7: Wolkin, Jennifer. Mindful Eating for a Healthier Brain-Gut Connection (internet). Mindful.org 27 Aug 2015
8: Papies E, et. al. The benefits of simply observing: mindful attention modulates the link between motivation and behavior. J Pers Soc Psychol., vol. 108, no. 1, 2015, pp. 148-70.
9: SpoonGuru. What is Mindful Eating?