Congratulations. If the topic of mindful eating has sparked your interest and you clicked on this article; your relationship with food is likely about to get a whole lot better! (because truthfully, the other way – dieting – is boring, unhealthy and depriving).
Let’s firstly explore what is mindfulness?
Mindful eating stems from the ancient technique of mindfulness. Being “mindful” means you are living moment to moment, paying close attention to your thoughts and everything around you, without judgement.
Generally speaking, mindfulness helps you to:
- Have more awareness of your body (including how food affects you)
- Be less reactive to life’s challenges (it’s particularly awesome for anxiety)
- Improve your self-esteem and levels of self-acceptance
- Enhance your health (e.g. blood glucose levels, blood pressure and cholesterol levels)
- Gain more awareness of your surroundings (including other people)
- Boost your attention and concentration levels
What is mindful eating?
Given all this, it makes sense that mindful eating refers to being in the moment while you eat. It involves listening to your body and learning to trust your body’s cues for when, how much and what to eat.
With mindful eating (sometimes called intuitive eating) there is no guilt, no “right” foods, and no “wrong” foods. It never makes you feel like there is something wrong with you.
It basically removes the ongoing stress or focus that often happens when we try and stick to diets. Mindful eating can create a life without:
- Feeling guilty about eating something
- Worrying about the latest fad diet
- Fixating on “bad’” foods
- Constantly weighing yourself
- Feeling disappointed with the number on the scales
- Counting calories
- Hating exercise
This is why most folks who try it tend to report a sense of freedom, happiness, and ease – and geez, how good would that feel?
Some of the key steps to mindful eating are:
- Learning what kind of eating style we have and if we have triggers to our own eating. This could be things like emotional triggers, technology distractions or just having certain foods around us
- Starting a regular mindfulness or meditation practice to help us to be less reactive to our day-to-day stresses
- Learning how to pay close attention to internal body signals like hunger, fullness, taste preferences, thoughts and emotions
- Applying the nutrition information that’s out there so that we are able to stay healthy, without being on a restrictive diet.
What does the evidence say about mindful eating?
In a 2022 review, researchers investigated 14 studies that included intuitive eating as the intervention in the study. The researchers found intuitive eating had a positive or neutral effect on the quality of foods eaten. This means, that despite the common thought that if we are eating mindfully, we will just eat too much or eat too many unhealthy foods, it’s the exact opposite! The researchers also noted emotional eating and binge eating reduced.
How do I know if mindful eating is right for me?
Mindful eating and intuitive eating will likely be a good fit for you if:
- Have been on diets for years and are over them
- Constantly feel disappointed with the number on the scales
- Know what you should eat but struggle to “stick to the plan”
- Sick of using food to always manage emotions (e.g. stressed, happy, sad, angry or tired)
- Feel guilty (a lot) when you eat
Mindful eating can be great tool for people recovering from binge eating and in the later stages of recovery for anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. It can work well alongside any therapy you are undertaking but ALWAYS chat with the health professionals in your team to gauge if it is appropriate for you.
**Please note, if you identify as having a history of trauma, there may be some mindfulness practices like mindful eating that can be difficult and cause discomfort for you. It’s ok if it doesn’t “feel right” for you.