How Mindful Eating Can Help You Develop a Healthier Relationship With Food and Your Body

You’re watching a movie, chatting to a friend or thinking about your upcoming work deadline when suddenly your hand touches the bottom of the crisp packet. You realize that you’ve gone through the entire bag without even noticing. Don’t worry, you’re not alone: we’ve all been there.

This sort of ‘mindless’ eating is a common phenomenon in this fast-paced life of ours. By contrast, mindful eating teaches us to relate to food (and our bodies) in a healthier way. In this article, we’ll discuss the skill of mindful eating and describe three ways in which it can change your brain and behavior for the better.

What is Mindfulness?

Based on Buddhist philosophy, Mindfulness emphasizes the importance of being aware of what’s happening in the present moment. Additionally, Mindfulness encourages us to notice our experience without judging it. Mindfulness is practiced as a meditation technique by thousands around the world and research has shown that Mindfulness-based psychotherapy approaches are potentially effective in reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders.

What is Mindful Eating?

Mindful eating means adopting a specific mindset in relation to food. To eat mindfully is to be fully present throughout the meal – it’s about actually connecting with the experience of eating, rather than wolfing something down without even tasting what you’re eating. If you’re seeking to eat mindfully, start by paying attention to your senses: notices the variety of smells, tastes and textures that accompany a morsel of food. Then proceed to extend your awareness to the thoughts, emotions and physical sensations that arise before, during and after a meal.

Mindful Eating is NOT a Diet!

Many assume that this is just another diet fad – but this is a misconception. Why? Diets are focused on changing what you eat. Mindfulness, on the other hand, aims to make you more aware of how you eat. In other words, the goal of mindful eating is not to change your diet, but for you to become more conscious of what food and eating mean to you. Often, once you adopt a mindful attitude toward food and eating in general, you’ll find yourself automatically making healthier dietary choices – but this is not the goal.

Who Stands to Benefit from Mindful Eating?

We all overeat from time-to-time. Do you find that you’re binge eating more often than you would like? Are you wanting to lose weight and finding that you’re bouncing from one fad diet to the next without any positive results? Do you wish that you could relate to yourself and your body with more kindness and self-compassion? Have you been diagnosed with an eating disorder; or do you think that your relationship to food might be a little bit “disordered”? Do you wish that you could truly enjoy the experience of eating and use this as an opportunity for nourishment, both physiological and symbolic?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, mindful eating could create some powerful changes when it comes to your physical and emotional wellbeing. Research has shown, for example, that mindful eating can help people reduce their meal size, binge less frequently and cope with a range of disordered eating patterns. How exactly does mindful eating help us change the way we relate to food and our bodies?

1. By Helping You Avoid Overeating

Did you know that once you’ve eaten enough, your stomach signals to your brain that you don’t need any more food? This is due to a chemical called leptin, which takes about 20 minutes to travel from your belly to your brain. If you’re eating mindlessly, you’re probably wolfing down your meal in a matter of minutes.

Mindful eating, on the other hand, teaches us to slow down and savor the experience of eating. This means that you’re more likely to pace yourself properly and avoid overeating. By the time you’ve filled your belly mindfully, enough time will have passed for the leptin to tell your brain that you’re full. You’re also likely to be calmer and less stressed, which helps you to avoid comfort eating.

2. By Putting You in Touch with Your Body’s Needs

Eating is a deeply symbolic process; and there are a lot of different meanings that we attach to food. For example, as babies many of us learn to associate being fed with feelings of safety, nurturance and wellbeing. Later on, as an adult, you might find yourself craving food because you’re not feeling quite right on an emotional level – comfort eating, in other words.

Often, people think that they’re hungry when in truth they’re sad, anxious, angry or tired. This means that they end up overeating because they’re not in touch with what their body really needs. Mindfulness, on the other hand, trains us to become aware of the difficult emotions and thoughts that trigger comfort eating; and to differentiate this from real hunger.

3. By Giving You Permission to Nourish Yourself

While some of us associate food with comfort and safety, many of us carry a lot of guilt, shame and self-critical tendencies when it comes to food. Either we diet endlessly, depriving ourselves of the healthy nourishment that we need; or we binge eat and spend the rest of the day beating ourselves up for doing so. In extreme cases, these ways of relating to food can develop into diagnosable eating disorders. Mindful eating, on the other hand, can help us to detach from those feelings of guilt and shame and allow us to enjoy the process of self-nourishment, on physical and emotional levels.

Eat Mindfully for A Healthier and Happier You

We’ve all heard the phrase “you are what you eat”. The wisdom of Mindfulness tells us, however, that it’s also important to think about how we eat – because our dietary choices are often linked to our beliefs and attitudes about food more generally. By eating mindfully, you’re choosing to live in the moment, rather than letting life pass you by. This simple change in mindset can have a powerful healing effect on the way that you relate to food, your body and yourself more generally.

author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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