Mindful eating, what is it and why should I bother practicing it?

Modern life is busy, hectic, chaotic. Often we are running from one place to the next responding to pressures from work and family commitments. Often we “don’t have time” to sit and eat. Or to exercise. Or to take time for ourselves and permit ourselves some self care. For many of us, this means eating on the run. Shoving food in, whatever is quick or on hand, while driving, working, ferrying kids to their after school activities or between chores.

As a society we value food and we value eating, but we don’t ever give ourselves the time to enjoy it.

Mindful eating is a strategy and way of life, that is designed to change our focus. To allow us some space to sit and enjoy our food. To allow us that time to focus, to take a breath and gives us a chance to become aware of our surroundings, how we are feeling and a chance to acknowledge the sensations of eating.

Mindful Eating, what is it?

Eating mindfully is a strategy around eating which encourages:

  • being in the present moment
  • being aware of what you are eating
  • being aware of why you are eating
  • acknowledging how you are feeling when eating and how food makes you feel when eating
  • exploring how eating is for you – how food looks, tastes, feels and smells
  • not placing any judgments or values or expectations on your experiences.

“The “mindfulness” concept involves acknowledging and exploring the sensations of the physical and emotional body without judgment or expectation.”

Mindful Eating and the non-diet approach

The non-diet approach is a strategy which focuses on changing behaviours to become more healthful, rather than focusing on weight loss. It puts emphasis on healthy eating behaviours, eating regularly, following hunger cues, improving diet quality in ways that are acceptable and achievable and improving exercise behaviours in a way that is enjoyable and sustainable. Body image improvements are done by developing self acceptance and self compassion. these approaches, including the Health at Every Size® principles have been shown to have a positive impact on people’s pyschological and physical well being, including improving fitness behaviours and diet quality.

Why should I practice Mindful eating?

Mindful eating has been shown to improve our physical health, by improving weight, improving our blood tests, such as our glucose control as well as our pyshcological health. Mindful eating practices improves our diet quality, increases our exercise and our eating behaviours. For example, the practice of mindful eating can improve binge eating behaviours, including binge eating disorder (grade A evidence – that’s the best kind).

So how do you do Mindful eating?

The basis of mindful eating is paying attention to what you are eating. To start practicing eating mindfully try:

  • Sitting down and eating at a dining table – give your meal your full attention. Focus on how it looks, smells, feels in your mouth and tastes.
  • Turn off all distractions … get off Facebook and step away from your work desk!
  • Slow down! Eat slowly, chew your food and try not to shovel your food in.
  • Notice how you are feeling while eating, regularly tune into your body and listen for the signals. Are you still hungry? Do you need to continue eating?
  • Acknowledge your cravings and ask yourself WHY. What are you craving and why are you craving it? Are you hungry? Are you stressed? Do you associate that food with comfort? Have you been restricting your diet and you now crave those foods you’re “not allowed”?
  • Try keeping a food and emotions diary. What you are eating, when and why. It can help you to realise and understand why you are heading for the foods you are eating and the reasons for it. If you are eating or bingeing on foods as an emotional response to stress or unhappiness, the food you are eating won’t fix your problem. Being aware that this is what’s going on for you, is the first step.
  • Tune into your body. Focus on your physical body, notice what is going on, hunger pangs in your belly, heart racing because you are stressed, tired or fatigued, dry mouth because you are thirsty?
  • Tune into your mind. What’s going on in your thoughts? Are you stressed, relaxed, sad or angry? Are these emotions driving a desire to eat?
  • Acknowledge your body’s response to food, how it makes you feel, including likes and dislikes, without judgement.

How is mindful eating different from intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating is about tuning into your body’s hunger signals. That means giving yourself unconditional permission to eat and by following your hunger cues you will be eating when hungry and stopping before you are full. These are innate body cues that we have from birth, but can be (and often are) over ridden as we get older. Intuitive eating is about tuning back into those hunger signals and allowing your body to dictate how much food you need to eat and what types of foods your body needs. When you eat intuitively, without restrictions, you will have cravings for healthy foods, like broccoli, not just craving’s for comfort foods.

The Hunger scale is helpful to help pin point your level of hunger. Ideally, you don’t want to be a 1 or a 10! When you hit a 3 then it’s a good time to have a meal. When you hit a 6, it’s a good time to stop eating.

Food and eating is not just about nutrition

According to the Japanese Food and Nutrition guidelines:

Happy eating makes for happy family life; sit down and eat together and talk; treasure family taste and home cooking”

and The Brazilian Food and Nutrition Guidelines also have a more holistic approach. Eating with family and friends, making time to cook and eat and enjoying your food, is just as important as choosing nutrient dense foods.

The New Zealand Food and Nutrition Guidelines have some work to do in improving their holistic approach to health! Food and eating is more than just nutrients: it’s also about family, friends, traditions, culture and enjoyment.

Moral of the story?

Mindful and Intuitive eating are forms of self care. They involve tuning into our body, listening to our hunger and fullness cues, being aware of how our body and mind is feeling and acknowledging those feelings, without judgement. Mindful eating is about taking the time to pay attention to your mind and body while you are eating and enjoying the sensations of eating. These techniques can improve your health and well being, including by helping to maintain a healthy body weight and improving the physical health of your body.

Need help with your eating behaviours? Been told by your Dr you need to lose weight or watch your weight? Interested in finding out more about mindful and intuitive eating?

I take a non-diet approach and won’t focus on weight loss, but can help you improve your health by focusing on healthy eating behaviours and by implementing mindful and intuitive eating.

Want to know more? Call or text me (021 184 1839) for a no obligation 10 minute chat about how I can help you with your health and nutrition goals.

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