What is mindful eating?

It’s based on the Buddhist concept of mindfulness. It’s the act of focusing attention on present moment experiences. Involves being fully aware of what is happening within and around you now, in the moment. Eating mindful includes noticing the colors, smells, flavors, and textures of your food; chewing slowly; getting rid of distractions (cell or computer) and learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food.

Apply that to a meal, and mindful eating means paying attention to the food you’re eating, making you less likely to thoughtlessly plow through a bag of potato chips, for instance.

Can Mindful Eating Help You Lose Weight?

Mindful eating is not a weight-loss cure but is an approach for healthy eating, leading to weight loss. When you are conscious of what you’re putting in your body you will choose healthier foods, that is key! Mindful eating changes the focus from calorie counting to how certain foods make you feel. You begin to understand how food is energy and nourishment versus a passive event negated of pleasure.

Limiting distractions also plays a big role in what and how much you consume. When you eat while distracted, you’re more likely to overeat, make poor food choices, and ignore signs of physical discomfort or fullness.

Mindful eating helps you eliminate these distractions, so you are more familiar with your body. This can help you establish a healthy relationship with food and avoid the deprivation-binge cycle.

In the journal Current Obesity Reports, research study suggests “Positive weight loss results” with mindful eating. Research review concluded: “Increased mindful eating has been shown to help participants gain awareness of their bodies, be more in tune to hunger and satiety, recognize external cues to eat, gain self-compassion, decrease food cravings, decrease problematic eating, and decrease reward-driven eating.”

First, we must practice recognizing our own personal hunger and satiety (“I’m getting full”) signals. Second, we need to act on them. It’s important to learn our hunger and satiety alerts. To become acquainted with your body’s natural cues and give your weight loss efforts the best chance for success.

Getting started for mindful eating

  1. Starting gradually with mindful eating, eating one meal a day or week in a slower, more attentive manner, set 30 minutes aside and take that time to eat. Take small bites and chew well.
  2. Eat silently. Close your laptop, switch off the TV, or step away from your desk. Mindful eating is about focusing exclusively on the food in front of you, not your emails or cell distractions. Think of it like meditation, it’s hard to meditate when people are talking to you, standing in front of you, or when your thoughts are drawn away. It’s challenging to eat mindfully — to enjoy your food and notice your body’s satiety signals — if your attention is elsewhere. Research agrees: Eating while distracted can lead to overeating, while attentive eating can help you lose weight.
  3. Wait before getting stuffed- It takes your brain about 20 minutes to receive the signal that you’re full. It’s easy to overeat in that small window of time, which is why it’s a good idea to take a break before loading up your plate for round two. This waiting period gives you time to process the food you’ve eaten and allows you to make a conscious choice about whether to get a second serving, rather than heading back out of habit.
  4. Stop before you eat and ask why you’re eating- A huge element of mindful eating is the mission to understand why you’re eating.Before you reach for that cookie or dive into your lunch at 10 a.m., take a moment to notice how your body feels. Is your stomach gurgling? Do you feel lightheaded or tired? Are you thirsty? Consider your environment as well. Are you bored? Do you feel the urge to procrastinate on work? Taking a moment before you eat, to really see if you are hungry or eating for other reasons, without awareness.
  5. Before opening the fridge or cabinet for a snack, take a breath and ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” Or are you just craving the ritual of indulging in something. When this is the case, make yourself a cup of tea. Try black or green tea. The process of boiling the water, steeping the tea, and sipping it usually gets rid of the snacking urges. Or do something else, like reading or going on a short walk.
  6. Take note of your cravings-Try a journal to identify your cravings and make note of when and where you’re eating. Recognizing your cravings when they happen, allows you to make a mindful decision whether to indulge or not. Taking note of your eating habits and environment can help you figure out what you need to adjust to eat more mindfully. For example: If you always eat lunch in front of a computer, then end up feeling uncomfortably stuffed, you can try trading your screen time for 20 minutes of eating in peaceful silence.

Use these simple techniques, as a tool, to aide with your everyday health!

Carol Aguirre MS, RD/LDN