bowl of granola with raisins and sliced almonds beside plate of whole cherries
Nutrition

What is Mindful Eating?

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With this year’s Nutrition Month theme being More than Food, there’s been some discussion about mindful eating.  This is great, because it can be a good tool to help you tune into your body and learn more about nourishing yourself. 

Unfortunately, many assume it just means “minding what you eat”, but that’s a bit of an oversimplification. It also implies some morality around food, doesn’t it?  Like you have to be careful about what you eat because some foods are “bad”.  While there’s nothing wrong with paying attention to the food you eat and wanting to ensure you are nourishing your body well, I think a clarification is needed.

Mindful eating is not about control, it’s about connection.

Mindfulness is a practice where attention is focused on the present moment, and all thoughts are accepted without judgment. It was brought to the mainstream by Dr. Joh Kabat-Zinn, through his guided meditations used for stress reduction.  Mindful eating applies the principles of mindfulness to eating.

According to The Center for Mindful Eating, this means:

  • Allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom.
  • Using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body.   
  • Acknowledging responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment.
  • Becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating.
bowl of granola with raisins and sliced almonds beside plate of whole cherries
Focus on the a food’s appearance, taste, texture, and smell as part of your mindful eating practice.
Image by rawpixel.com

What are the Benefits of Mindful Eating?

Mindful eating can help us connect with ourselves to learn more about our likes, dislikes, and behaviours around eating.  It can help reduce restrictive eating and guide individuals to make healthier food choices.

Some studies have shown mindful eating can reduce binging behaviour and decrease depression and anxiety levels, for those with binge eating disorder. Additionally, it can increase awareness of hunger and satiety cues in those with type 2 diabetes.

Pitfalls to Avoid

We’re all so used to thinking there’s a perfect way to eat to be healthy (there’s not), that we often ignore our internal cues about hunger and the foods we find satisfying. Approaching mindful eating with expectations of a particular outcome will only lead to frustration.

Do your best to avoid the following;

  1. Judgement. Accepting what you learn without judgement is a core aspect of mindful eating.  It’s not about trying to avoid so-called “bad” foods or make portion sizes smaller because you think you need to.  It’s about focusing inward and learning what your body is telling you about hunger and fullness and foods that make you feel good.
  2. Perfection. Mindfulness is not another thing to add to your to-do list, nor is it a requirement for healthy eating. It is simply a tool for becoming more aware of internal cues and finding a way of eating that’s right for you.
  3. Assuming you’ll lose weight.  Unfortunately, mindful eating is often marketed as a weight loss tool.  Yes, it’s possible you could lose weight, but this is not a given. There are many factors that influence a person’s body weight, and some are beyond a person’s control.  With mindful eating, you might gain weight, lose weight, or your weight could stay the same.
person holding a smart phone taking a photo of their breakfast
Put the phone away and avoid other distractions when practicing mindful eating.
Image by rawpixel.com

How to Start Practicing Mindful Eating

As with any new habit or behaviour change, you’ll want to set some realistic expectations around starting a mindful eating practice.  Mindful eating is more about exploration and learning, rather than a particular end goal that you are trying to achieve. 

Here’s an activity to get you started:

  1. Choose the meal you want to try and pick a time you know you’ll be free from distractions.
  2. Focus on your breath for a minute before you begin to eat.
  3. Take a few moments to contemplate what it took to produce that meal; consider the sun and soil needed to grow the food, the farmer to harvest, the grocer to sell it and the person who cooked it.
  4. Spend 5 minutes eating silently. Focus on the way the food smells, tastes and feels.
  5. Reflect on your experience and what you learned. Did you thoroughly enjoy your meal? Did you need more or less food to feel satisfied? Was there a food you enjoyed more than usual? Less?

Remember, there is no right or wrong way to do this. Another option is to try a mindful eating guided meditation.

This post was inspired by the Nutrition Month 2020 theme More than Food. You can learn more about Nutrition Month at www.nutritionmonth2020.ca

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