The way we eat is very often a reflection of our environment and how we feel about ourselves.
Modern society has dramatically changed in recent years. Not only have sit down, family meals become a distant memory for some, eating has become a means to an end. Something to be done quickly whilst sat at a desk or in front of the TV. Many have therefore lost the ability to distinguish between emotional and physical hunger.
Add our current diet culture and media portrayal of the ‘perfect body’ to the mix and there is no wonder that we have lost control of our eating habits.
In this blog, I will describe what mindful eating is and how it can help you regain that control and improve your relationship with food.
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is a technique that allows you to become more aware of the physical and emotional sensations food causes.
It is based on the Buddhist practice of mindfulness whereby you clear your mind to focus on one thing.
Evidence has demonstrated that mindful interventions can in fact help with weight loss and obesity related eating behaviours, such as binge eating.
The center for mindful eating defines it as:
- 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 judgement.
- Becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating.
Ultimately, it encourages the replacement of making non-conscious decisions about food with those that are more in tune with your physical and mental state.
Mindful eating means being more aware of what and how you eat. It is based on the Buddhist concept of mindfulness.
Mindful eating and weight loss
Anyone who has tried to diet knows that the initial phase is usually successful and rewarding as we see the pounds drop off. Long term weight loss and maintenance is, however, more of a challenge. This is because short term dietary changes are often easy to adhere to but life inevitably gets in the way. We therefore revert old habits if mindful techniques to change eating behaviour are not implemented.
A 2017 systematic review meta-analysis of several studies revealed that mindful eating behaviours have a moderate to largely effective impact on weight loss. In fact, participants actually managed to maintain continue weight loss whereas those following a ‘typical’ diet tended to regain weight.
Another 6 month pilot study using mindful techniques showed an average weight loss of 12kg without regain in a 3 month follow up.
Changing the way you think and utilise food to deal with external influences, such as stress, can have a huge positive impact on your food self-control and emotions.
Mindful eating can be a powerful tool in helping with long term weight loss and avoiding obesity.
Mindful eating and binge eating
Binge eating means eating a lot of food in a short space of time; it is linked to obesity. If it becomes recurrent and out of control then it may manifest itself as Binge Eating Disorder.
Mindful eating can, however, have a powerful therapeutic effect on those struggling with binge eating. The same systematic review and meta analysis, quoted above, demonstrated mindful techniques having a significant impact on such obesity related eating behaviours.
Another 6 month study in obese women saw binge eating episodes reduce from 4 to 1.4 times a week; a significant difference.
Mindful eating has the potential to reduce and even prevent obesity related eating behaviours.
Ways to practice mindful eating behaviour
There are a number of formal and informal ways to practice mindful eating behaviours and a combination of the two will have the most powerful impact.
The second, less formal, approach is through small exercises practised each day. These exercises require you to be completely present in the moment when eating and help to develop an increased awareness of your hunger and satiety signals. These are the key to breaking any ingrained habits.
These simple strategies could include:
- Eating at a slower pace, taking the time to taste and savour your food
- Sitting at a table ad making mealtime a ritual
- Eating with others i.e. your family
- Avoiding any distractions such as the TV or smartphones
- Chewing each mouthful well, at least 15 times
- Stop eating when you are full; you do not need to clear your plate
- Ask yourself why you are eating; are you actually hungry or is it an emotional response?
- Focus on how the food you are eating makes you feel
- Creating a photo food diary to reflect on what you have eating. You can use an app like MyEat
- Using another mindful eating app like this to record thoughts and feelings.
I suggest trying these strategies one meal at a time and then once you have mastered the technique, build on it throughout each day.
A combination of formal and informal mindfulness techniques are most powerful when trying to master control of eating behaviours.
Like any skill, mindful eating takes time and practice. Once it becomes a habit, however, it can have extreme benefits on both weight loss, maintenance and eating behaviour. It can be a very useful tool in preventing obesity and therefore illness in later life.
Just as with any practice, start small and master one step at a time. This will then have a domino effect that can potentially transform your emotional and physical well-being.
This was brought to you by Rebecca Flannery from Transformational Nutrition