By Abbi Lichtenstein, NBC-HWC, MA Certified Health and Wellness Coach
Because of our hectic schedules, many of us eat while working, on the go, or doing other tasks. While watching tv, we may start out with a bag of chips/candy/popcorn, and because we are distracted, we don’t realize that we ate it all. When we become aware of this, we start to feel guilty and maybe ashamed of how much food we ate. How can we become more aware of what we are eating in the moment, and have a better relationship with the foods we eat without the guilt? Mindful eating is a way of enjoying our food, without regrets.
What is Mindful Eating (MFE)?
MFE is based on the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, which involves being fully aware of what is happening within and around you at the moment. It aims to reconnect us more deeply with the experience of eating, enjoying our food. Mindful eating is based on the idea that there is no right or wrong way to eat, but rather varying degrees of consciousness about what we are eating and why. The goal of mindful eating, then, is to base our meals on physical cues, such as our bodies’ hunger signals, not emotional ones.
Mindful Eating helps with:
- Forming a good relationship with food and learning to enjoy it
- Teaches you self-compassion and body acceptance
- No rules to follow like diets
- More awareness of hunger cues
How is it different from traditional dieting?
- Dieting uses external cues. There are rules you have to follow—don’t eat this, don’t eat that. You can only eat this/that. At first the rules may be able to follow, but it’s hard to sustain. How do you feel when you go off or cheat on your diet?
- MFE uses internal cues—you listen to your body. You are in control and it incorporates practicing self-compassion. How can you be kind to yourself if you feel guilty about eating a certain food? What other ways can you soothe yourself?
What’s some of the research on MFE?
Research suggests that eating mindfully could prevent weight gain due to improving our relationship with food by decreasing stress related overeating. In addition, one study found that after six months of eating mindfully, MFE showed to support long term-health—increase in HDL, decrease in triglycerides and after a year, blood sugar levels decreased.
How do you eat mindfully? There are formal and informal exercises which are explained below.
- Find a comfortable seated position. Come into the present moment by taking a few breaths, noticing how you feel physically.
- Place a few raisins (you can also try this with a Hershey Kiss or an orange) in your hand. Notice the impulse you might have to pop them all in your mouth right away.
- Look at the raisins, examining them with curiosity as if you’ve never seen one before.
- Notice how they feel in your hand – the texture, shape and weight. You may want to close your eyes while doing this.
- Notice the color of the raisins and if they have any unique features.
- Imagine where the raisins came from, how they started as juicy grapes on the vine. Picture the workers on the farm harvesting the grapes and another set of workers transporting the raisins to the store.
- Slowly bring one raisin to your nose to see what it smells like. Notice how naturally your arm moves to do this.
- Continue to notice any thoughts of like or dislike you might have of as you observe the raisin. Notice whether you’re anticipating what it will taste like. Perhaps you’re starting to salivate or feeling an impulse to put the raisin into your mouth right away.
- Ever so slowly, place the raisin in your mouth, without biting into it. Explore what it feels like in your mouth, notice what your tongue is doing. Keep it in your mouth without chewing for at least 10 seconds. Notice what it’s like to take this time before eating the raisin.
- When you are ready, slowly and softly bite into the raisin, taking one or two bites.
- Without swallowing, notice what it tastes like, how its flavor and texture changes as you chew. Notice your natural impulse to swallow it.
- When you are ready, swallow the raisin.
- Sit quietly and notice what you are feeling.
Informal Mindfulness Eating (some suggestions from Mindfulness, The New Science of Health and Happiness, Time Special Addition, 2017).
- Start with, “Do I really want this”. Taking a brief pause may help you gauge your hunger level Ask yourself the reason you are eating. Are you bored, stressed, really hungry? What can I do instead of eating to help relieve my stress or boredom?
- Actually sit down. Studies have shown that eating on the go, may make us overeat later on because we don’t pay attention to how much we’ve eaten. Make it an experience and eat at a table without distractions—watching tv or reading.
- Act like a baby. You are experiencing the food for the first time ever.
- Have lunch anywhere but your desk.
After you practice either exercise, ask yourself:
- What was the experience like?
- How satisfied do you feel?
- What signs was your body giving you?
- How did you feel emotionally?
- What are ways you can incorporate MFE into your life?
You may first want to try practicing MFE while eating a snack, then increase it to a meal.
In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn: you are now one raisin heavier! You can have your chocolate and eat it too!
If you do find that you ate a bag of chips, M&Ms, etc., that’s ok, and instead of feeling guilty, show yourself some self-compassion.
What are ways you can show yourself self-compassion?
Learn more about Abbi Lichtenstein, NBC-HWC, MA Certified Health and Wellness Coach, 301-642-4313
- Albers, S. (2008). Eat, drink, and be mindful. Oakland, CA: New Harbingers Publications, Inc. Daubenmier, J., Moran, P.J., Kristeller, J., Acress, M., Bacchett, P., Kemeny, M.E., ….Hecht, F.M. (2016). Effects of a mindfulness-based weight loss intervention in adults with obesity: A randomized clinical trial. Obesity; DOI: 10.1002/oby.21396
- Mindful Eating: 5 easy steps to get started (2013, updated 2017). HuffPost.
- Mulpeter, K. (2017). Can you shed pounds on a mindfulness diet? Mindfulness the New Science of Health and Happiness: Time, Special Edition 81-85.
- Seidman, E. (2017). Fourteen Ways to eat in the Moment (and love it). Mindfulness the New Science of Health and Happiness: Time, Special Edition 86-91.