What does Mindful Eating Mean?

Mindful eating follows on the premise of making conscious choices regarding food, in turn developing an awareness of your own physical and psychological satiety and hunger cues.1-4 This then allows us to eat in a healthy manner, in response to these cues.

As the name may suggest, it is based on the philosophy of mindfulness – an intentional focus on your individual thoughts, feelings and sensations. The goal of mindfulness in general is to become more self-aware, and so when eating mindfully, this awareness is used to make sense of the eating experience.4 Through this self-awareness, enjoying your food and making satisfying choices which will nourish your body are encouraged, allowing for positive and peaceful relationships to develop between you, your body and your food.

Forming a judgement-free space when it comes to food and eating is also encouraged, as it is important to recognise everyone’s needs and therefore eating experiences will vary. At its core, mindful eating is indeed a weight-inclusive approach and rejects judgements or ideals regarding body size and shapes.

Process for Mindful Eating

How does Mindful Eating work?

Methods to eating mindfully generally include developing greater awareness of different physical sensations, affective states, thoughts and feelings surrounding food in each eating experience.2-4 There is a focus on not only what food you choose to eat, but also on the internal and external physical cues these foods trigger within you, and how you respond.2

A model to mindful eating has been established as containing the following four aspects: what to eat, why we eat what we eat, how much to eat, and how to eat.2,4 From this model, the following guiding principles can be gathered:2,4

  1. Honour the food: Recognise where the food was grown, how it was used in the meal, and who prepared it. Reduce distractions at mealtimes and focus on the enjoying the meal.
  2. Engage all senses: Pay attention to the look, touch, taste and smell of the food, including how you are feeling when eating. To engage these senses, pause periodically while eating.
  3. Serve in modest portions: Fill your plate once and in a modest amount to avoid overeating and reduce food wastage.  
  4. Eat slowly and chew thoroughly: To be engage your senses and avoid overeating, it is important to eat slowly and chew thoroughly. This process helps to prepare our gut for the incoming meal and can increase recognition of our satiety cues.
  5. Don’t skip meals: Having regularly scheduled mealtimes can help to improve our hunger and fullness cues. When skipping meals, this can lead to increased hunger and increased likelihood of having convenient foods, which may not always be the healthiest choices for our bodies.
  6. Enjoy a diet rich in plant-based food: A diet rich in wholegrains, legumes, fruits and vegetables provide us with fibre, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. This is to be increased whilst our intakes of processed meat, red meat, saturated and trans-fats are reduced.

What are the benefits of Mindful Eating?

Practices involving mindful eating have shown positive results when incorporated into the treatment of chronic diseases, helping to improve dietary intake, mental health and quality of life.1-2,5-8   

Studies have shown mindful eating to be a positive eating technique when treating behaviours such as emotional or binge eating, helping individuals to develop healthier eating habits overall through a non-judgemental perspective.1,8-9 It has also been shown to provide a greater sense of control when eating as individual’s are encouraged to be present in the moment and engage their senses when eating.1,6 Through understanding one’s self-awareness, mindfulness also helps people differentiate between emotional and physical hunger, a skill which can improve our ability to cope with distress that would in other cases result in disordered eating patterns.1,9

It is also important to recognise, that whilst mindful eating may provide a healthier dietary intake, better control of eating behaviours and change in our bodies, it may not always result in weight loss.6 This is because mindful eating embraces food choices which promote well-being and joy when eating, taking the focus away from the size of our bodies and placing it working with our bodies to nourish it effectively. In some cases, our Accredited Practicing Dietitian’s can help to provide meal plans and tailored advice which utilise mindful eating principles to support your goals of healthy weight loss. 

Summary

In summary, mindful eating habits can be useful for many individuals with varying dietary requirements. It is a safe practice which encourages you to develop a healthy and trusting relationship with your own body, to better yourself from the inside out.6 Not only can these methods provide increased self-awareness and control when eating, but they can improve psychological wellbeing and mental health and increase our bodily satisfaction.4,8-10  When using alongside tailored nutrition education and dietetic advice, they can also reduce the risk of chronic disease and support positive body image.

References

1.Kristeller JL, Wolever RQ. Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training for Treating Binge Eating Disorder: The Conceptual Foundation. Eating Disorders. 2010 Dec 28;19(1):49–61.

2. Fung TT, Long MW, Hung P, Cheung LWY. An Expanded Model for Mindful Eating for Health Promotion and Sustainability: Issues and Challenges for Dietetics Practice. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2016 Jul;116(7):1081–6.

3. Grossman P, Niemann L, Schmidt S, Walach H. Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction and Health Benefits. A Meta-Analysis [Internet]. Journal of psychosomatic research. 2004. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15256293/

4. Harvard School of Public Health. Mindful eating [Internet]. The Nutrition Source. 2020. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/mindful-eating/

5. Miller CK, Kristeller JL, Headings A, Nagaraja H, Miser WF. Comparative Effectiveness of a Mindful Eating Intervention to a Diabetes Self-Management Intervention among Adults with Type 2 Diabetes: A Pilot Study. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics [Internet]. 2012 Nov;112(11):1835–42. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3485681/

6. Warren JM, Smith N, Ashwell M. A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutrition Research Reviews. 2017 Jul 18;30(2):272–83.

7. Mason AE, Epel ES, Kristeller J, Moran PJ, Dallman M, Lustig RH, et al. Effects of a mindfulness-based intervention on mindful eating, sweets consumption, and fasting glucose levels in obese adults: data from the SHINE randomized controlled trial. Journal of Behavioral Medicine [Internet]. 2016 Apr 1;39(2):201–13. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26563148

8. 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 Dec;18(6):260–4.

9. Wanden-Berghe RG, Sanz-Valero J, Wanden-Berghe C. The Application of Mindfulness to Eating Disorders Treatment: A Systematic Review. Eating Disorders. 2010 Dec 28;19(1):34–48.

10. Hofmann SG, Sawyer AT, Witt AA, Oh D. The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 2010 Apr 1;78(2):169–83.

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