Mindful eating – using the tenets of mindfulness meditation while eating, has done nothing less than transform mind-body nutrition. Practitioners everywhere are incorporating it because it helps our clients change what they eat. Simple as that!
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is a type of meditation wherein you focus your attention on the sensory and other aspects of eating with an attitude of non-judgmental awareness. In essence, you slow down, eat with all five senses and stay curious about the process, about the food and about your own relationship with food.
When I work with an individual, I almost always combine clear steps to bring food and lifestyle into balance (the what of lifestyle) with mindfulness (the how of lifestyle).
Since I’ve become a student of mindful eating myself, I enjoy my food more, often eat less, and am more satisfied. It takes longer to eat, (and to do the dishes as I really slow down), but I’m happier. Thich Nhat Hanh (who said he’s happier when he washes this teapot as though it were the baby Buddha or Jesus) is right.
The Science Behind Mindful Eating
The research community agrees that mindful eating is an effective tool. It can help promote a healthy natural weight, and curb destructive emotional eating. While the science is still young, it is evolving quickly – we are learning more about it all the time.
For emotional eating, mindful eating has been found to be most effective when combined with other behavior change techniques like coaching with a qualified nutrition professional. For effective weight management, again, mindful eating is most effective when it is done within a more comprehensive nutrition program and delivered by a well-trained professional.
Why Practice Mindful Eating?
- Enjoying your food – First off, when people slow things down – and eating is a dramatic example – they tend to taste and enjoy their food more. It might seem ironic, but eating slowly is more interesting and enjoyable, once you get the hang of it.
- Epigenetic benefits – Epige-what? Epigenetics is the impact that choices have on gene expression. When you choose to eat a plant-based diet or move your body, you actually impact your gene expression, which in turn builds a more resilient future you. It’s some of the biggest news in lifestyle medicine now.
- Neurobiology benefits – Mindfulness manages stress. When you slow down and breathe – particularly when you extend your exhale – you activate the whole rest-and-recover side of your nervous system. That not only manages stress but can improve digestion.
- Turn down the external messages on what and how much to eat. Face it, modern life is filled with messages from the media – commercials for fast food, billboards – it’s just everywhere. We are told we need to be eating basically all the time. It’s hard to ignore, but mindfulness can help you un-hook from those messages.
- Tune into your internal guidance system – instead of responding to cues from the outside, mindful eating gets you more in-tune to your internal guidance system – to if you are actually hungry, and when you are satisfied.
- Improve your relationship with what you eat. Eating is a two-way conversation. Mindfulness is an excellent way to tune in to toes conversation.
An Awareness About Mindful Eating
One caveat – this practice can uncouple eating and satiety. It can help you eat less, but it can also help you undercut your nutritional well-being if your emotional eating has evolved into a more serious condition like an eating disorder. This is not a practice to help you stop eating or to eat less than your body actually needs. But, it can be misused in this way. Don’t do it – it won’t end well for you. You can avoid that risk – here’s how.
In addition to mindfulness, use nutrition guidelines for adequacy – adequate protein and energy needs – for your body. For example, the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a non-governmental nonprofit affiliated with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), who among other things tracks the research on dietary needs and creates recommendations, suggests that most humans need about 50 gm of protein to be reasonably healthy. I’ve found that a reasonable screen – a starting place, for someone. A qualified nutritionist can help ensure that you are getting the nutrition you need to be who you want to be – strong, energetic, and healthy.
So How do I do it?
Check out this post for more background:
Ready to practice? Reach out to me to ask about my new Mindful Eating mini-course – How to Eat.