Mindful eating is an important concept in developing a healthy, balanced relationship with food. The Center for Mindful Eating has some great resources on their website, along with an excellent definition of what mindful eating consists of:
“Mindful Eating is 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. By using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body, acknowledging your responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment, and becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating you can change your relationship to food.”
-The Center for Mindful Eating
A great analogy for a mindful eater is someone who eats like an infant. When an infant is hungry, they cry, signaling to their caregiver that they want to eat. When they are full, they stop eating. This could be after finishing half a bottle, most of a bottle, or a whole bottle. They notice the internal cues for hunger and fullness, not whether the bottle is empty or full.
Here are some basic differences between "mindful" and "mindless" eating:
Why am I choosing to eat?
The Mindless Eater: I’m bored, tired, stressed, thirsty, or “it’s just time to eat.” Mostly driven by habit.
The Mindful Eater: I feel physically hungry and will enjoy eating the food that is available to me.
How much do I eat?
The Mindless Eater: I likely will finish the entire plate, bowl, or serving that is put in front of me regardless of how I physically feel. I do this mostly out of habit because that’s how I was taught to eat in childhood. Or I follow a rigid set of food rules from a diet plan rather than notice my own body’s signals.
The Mindful Eater: I eat until I feel physically satisfied and am no longer enjoying the food as much as I had at the beginning of the meal, regardless of how much food is left on my plate. The signals to start and stop eating are primarily internal rather than external.
In what manner do I eat?
The Mindless Eater: I eat quickly so I can get back to work, watch Netflix, focus on driving, or whatever else I’m preoccupied with during my day. In short, I eat distractedly. I do not notice environmental factors such as serving sizes that may cause me to eat more than I need. I also don’t fully enjoy my food. I might not even notice that I don’t like what I’m eating. I may follow food rules that dictate that I should be eating foods I don’t even really like.
The Mindful Eater: I set aside time for eating when I am hungry, so I can fully enjoy it and appreciate how food nourishes my body. I am not distracted, so I can tell when I’m satisfied. I notice the various flavors and textures present in my meal. I am aware of environmental factors that may cause me to eat past fullness. I allow myself to eat foods that I truly like, as this is part of a healthy relationship with food.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
(based on studies completed by Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction):
Improved management of Type 2 diabetes
Lowered frequency of binge eating episodes
Reduced sugar consumption
The opposite of “mindful” eating is “mindless” eating. Watch this space for more content on that topic in the near future.