What is mindful eating?
Many people experience the feeling of being on “autopilot” by going through daily motions without actually thinking or experiencing them. Mindfulness is a type of meditation that involves using certain skills (e.g., guided imagery, meditation, journaling, breathing exercises, etc.) to focus on the present and observe inner thoughts and feelings without judgment. Mindful eating is the practice of these principles applied to experiences related to food, including hunger, taste, smell, fullness, etc.
There are several benefits of mindful eating. They include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Combats various forms of eating disorders
- Curbs cravings
- Promotes healthy relationships with food
- Improves digestion
- Regulates eating patterns
The practice of mindful eating allows a person to accomplish the following:
- Appreciate food
- Notice sensations associated with food, such as colors, smells, sounds, textures, flavors
- Eat slowly
- Avoid multitasking while eating
- Notice how food makes them feel
- Listen to hunger cues
- Eat only until full
- Learn to cope with guilt or anxiety related to food
- Distinguish between hunger and non-hunger triggers
- Eat to maintain health and wellbeing
Why people eat when they are not hungry
Eating is often associated with automatic thoughts and reactions. It may be done quickly and without thinking. The brain does not immediately register that the stomach is full; therefore, the signal may not be received until after a person has eaten too much and too quickly. This is commonly associated with binge-eating disorder (BED). Mindful eating helps replace these automatic actions with conscious choices and awareness. Studies have shown that mindfulness and mindful eating can reduce the severity and frequency of binge-eating, as well as improve eating behavior in those with BED or bulimia nervosa.
How to practice mindful eating
Practicing mindful eating for one meal each day is a good way to begin. Gradually, the process will become easier and more natural to do on a regular basis. Mindful eating includes the following:
- Only eat when hungry and stop when full
- Chew thoroughly
- Ask, “Why am I eating?”
- Eat slowly
- Focus on how the food makes one feel
- Turn off distractions, such as a phone, TV, etc.
- Eat in silence