How often do you feel anxious when it comes to choosing the “right” food and being fearful of overeating? Research has shown that our brain processes affect eating behavior via the food reward system. However, the modern food industry has created an environment with many opportunities for reinforcing food rewards, making us eat more mindlessly and effortlessly.
It is easy and common for such an environment to distort our relationship with food, develop poor eating behavior, and put on weight. This article will introduce the concept of mindful eating and how mindfulness trains our minds to build healthy eating behaviors, maintain a healthy weight, have a healthy relationship with food.
What is mindfulness?
The term “mindfulness” comes from Buddhism. Mindfulness is a meditation focused on being at the present, recognizing, acknowledging, and accepting our thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations.
When mindfulness is applied to mindful eating it goes beyond eating and tasting your food, and it is also about paying attention to your food choices, how you prepare, serve and consume them, the thoughts and feeling when you’re consuming them. Practicing mindful eating can relax the rigidity of diets, reduce stress and anxiety around food, increase our flexibility around negative behaviors, and redirect the attention from food to our wellbeing.
How can mindful eating help you?
Mindful eating can be briefly summarized into three areas: body, feeling, and thoughts.
Mindfulness of your body
- Be aware of your body sensation: vision, hear, taste, touch, and smell.
- When you’re eating, engage all your senses and savor food by noticing the colors, smells, sounds, textures, and flavors of your food – truly tasting!
- Pay more attention to the process of your eating, chewing, swallowing, eating quickly or slowly.
- Pay attention to real hunger cues, such as rumbling stomach, weakness, tiredness, tension around the body, and difficulty concentrating.
- Understand your physical cues for hunger and fullness, trying using a fullness scale with 1 being starving and 10 being overstuffed.
Mindfulness of your mind and feelings
- Pay attention to the present while eating and avoid distractions, such as phones, TVs, and works.
- Be aware of the changes in your feelings while eating, such as cravings, appetite, pleasure, satiation, comfort, or satisfaction.
- Recognize the emotional triggers that prompt you to eat, such as stress, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, or boredom– the emotional eating cues.
- Also take note of the emotions linked to overeating and other undesired eating behavior, such as shame, sadness, guilt, and regret.
- Distinguish between your emotional trigger and true hunger – the feelings that urge you to eat. Is it your mood or your rumbling stomach?
- Understand your stress, relax the body by staying active and practice meditation. When you’re stressed, all your problems are more prominent.
Mindfulness of your thoughts
- Understand that you’re eating to nourish your body, meet hunger, and maintain over health and well-being.
- Adopt a mindful mindset and learn to cope with guilt and anxiety around food with a non-judgmental attitude.
- Have a conscious awareness of your food choice, what you are eating, and how you think about food.
- Be more flexible around the “wrong”, “bad” and “right” food. Focus on what works for you, enjoying treats occasionally in moderate portions is more realistic and mindful than banning everything.
- Notice any types of thoughts around food – judgments, beliefs, negative, positive, catastrophic, good or bad. Accepting food as it is with appreciation rather than categorizing.
- Be compassionate to yourself and others when it comes to “bad” behavior and food choices.
- Learn to accept the present thoughts.
What’s next? Heal your mind before your body
Food can provide relief from stress, anxiety, or boredom because the brain’s food reward system helps you feel good. Being driven by food hedonism and surrounded by a food-promoting environment, you are more likely to engage in autopilot eating behaviors or let’s call it mindless eating.
Practicing mindfulness allows you to focus more on the root of weight and health problems such as uncontrolled eating, stressed and emotional eating, and judgmental thoughts on your body rather than simply being drowned in the negative feelings and mindless eating.
Eating mindfully can bring back your attention, focus on the act of eating, break the autopilot eating and allow the brain to receive a fullness signal as you slow down the process.
- Break the autopilot eating, giving the brain more time to realize you are full.
- Make food more enjoyable, slowing down the eating process to help you avoid binge eating and overeating.
- Improve perceived satisfaction from food, reducing the likelihood of food cravings and unnecessary snacking.
- Improve recognition of physical hunger and fullness cues to reduce overeating episodes.
- Improve awareness of physical and emotional triggers with more flexibility to respond and manage them.
- Improve flexibility around undesired eating behaviors and rebuilt your relationship with food.