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Mindful Eating

Updated: Sep 8

Written by: Ranier Castillo, MS, RDN, ACSM-CPT


As more research continues to be published on diet interventions, short-term diets and supplements have been shown to not be beneficial when working towards a healthier lifestyle (1). Instead, the data is showing exercise with nutrient-dense and caloric balanced meals, regardless of lifestyle diet (e.g. Ketogenic, Paleo, Vegan, etc.), have been shown to be promising on improving one’s overall health (2). However, the key issue some may have when trying to improve their lifestyle is how to improve their meal and mealtime behaviors. It can be difficult to kick off old eating habits, especially if one has never been mindful of their eating. To combat this dilemma, more dietitians and other health professionals are recommending Mindful Eating as a tactic.



Mindful Eating


Mindful Eating comes from the practice of mindfulness. It is the use of one’s consciousness and awareness (3). This may sound like common sense and some may even question “I’m aware and awake when I’m eating”. However, mindfulness proposes that there are times where our consciousness is only half awake (3). Therefore, mindfulness is meant to enhance our senses and consciousness in order to fully engage with one’s surroundings. When translating to Mindful Eating, this practice proposes that some may have difficulty understanding when they are full so they continue eating, or not fully engaging with their meals so they may have cravings for more food after their meals. Studies have shown how Mindful Eating can safely lower body weight and reduce occurrences of binge eating (4-6).


It is to note that Mindful Eating is a method of improving eating behaviors that need consistent practice and sometimes may need the assistance of a health professional (e.g. Registered Dietitians, Therapists, etc.). This article is to provide an overview of Mindful Eating but recommend to continue practicing in order to fully master.


How does it work


When starting Mindful Eating, it is advised to have a fully engaged and nonjudgemental perspective. This means using all your senses when eating and turning off all distractions when eating (see recommendations below). Using all your senses will help you listen to your hunger and fullness cues and allows you to ask yourself “Am I eating because I’m hungry, or because I’m bored/stressed?” A great practice to using all your senses when Mindful Eating is by taking a piece of fruit or vegetable such as a raisin, banana, or celery stick and ask yourself these questions as you engage with your fruit/vegetable.


Questions

  1. See: “How does the food look like?”

  2. Smell: “How does the food smell?”

  3. Taste: “What flavors are you tasting in your mouth?”

  4. Listen: “What does the food sound like as you chew through?”

  5. Touch: “What does the food feel like when you grab it” and “How does the texture feel when you’re chewing it?”

Once you have this concept of using your five senses to engage with your food, you can slowly start transitioning to actual meals throughout your day. If you are a social eater, having loved ones practice Mindful Eating with you would be most ideal, or having them support you Mindful Eating.



Strategies

Below you may find strategies to better improve your practice of Mindful Eating:

  1. Breathing exercise before opening the fridge: This will allow you to reduce stress and calmly decide what to eat when opening the fridge.

  2. Turn off the television.

  3. Wait to eat your food until you are sitting at a table, no distractions.

  4. Put away your cellphone.

  5. Chew thoroughly.

  6. After each bite, put down your food or fork: This will allow you to use your senses and not be in a hurry for another bite.

  7. After a meal, reflect on how grateful you are to have eaten that meal.

  8. After a meal, wait 20 minutes and reflect if you are still hungry.


References

1. Washburn, R., Szabo, A., Lambourne, K., Willis, E., Ptomey, L., Honas, J., ... Donnelly, J. (2014). Does the Method of Weight Loss Effect Long-Term Changes in Weight, Body Composition or Chronic Disease Risk Factors in Overweight or Obese Adults? A Systematic Review. PLoS One, 9(10), e109849.

2. Wu, T., Gao, X., Chen, M., & Van Dam, R. (2009). Long-term effectiveness of diet-plus-exercise interventions vs. diet-only interventions for weight loss: a meta-analysis.(Report). Obesity Reviews, 10(3), 313-323.

3. Brown, K., & Ryan, R. (2003). The Benefits of Being Present: Mindfulness and Its Role in Psychological Well-Being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822–848.

4. Daly P, Pace T, Berg J, Menon U, Szalacha LA. A Mindful Eating Intervention: A Theory-guided Randomized Anti-obesity Feasibility Study with Adolescent Latino Females. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2016;28:22-28.

5. Dalen J, Smith BW, Shelley BM, Sloan AL, Leahigh L, Begay D. Pilot study: Mindful Eating and Living (MEAL): Weight, eating behavior, and psychological outcomes associated with a mindfulness-based intervention for people with obesity. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2010;18(6):260-264.

6. Taylor MB, Daiss S, Krietsch K. Associations among self-compassion, mindful eating, eating disorder symptomatology, and body mass index in college students. Translational Issues in Psychological Science. 2015;1(3):229-238. doi:10.1037/tps0000035


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