Mindful Eating Introduction - Explained by a Registered Dietitian

Updated: Jul 9

What a crazy time we live in. I hope you and all your loved ones are doing well and staying healthy. With most of us at home, out of our usual routine and facing increased stress/anxiety due to the circumstances, our eating patterns are most certainly different. This is a great time to introduce mindful eating! I hope you learn something new in this article and hopefully this will bring some calmness into your life.

If you want to learn about nutrition and coronavirus, please check out this previous article.

What is mindfulness, where does it come from?

Mindfulness is a concept that has been around for centuries and can be applied to many areas of life. It is defined as complete awareness of our thoughts, emotions and experiences at all times and without judgement (1). It can be a powerful tool to help cope with stress - especially in our current reality! Mindfulness finds its roots in Buddhism (2) and has come into the mainstream through research on mindfulness done in the USA by Jon Kabat-Zinn, his main research focuses on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) which involves guided meditation, stretching and an incorporation of mindfulness in everyday life to reduce stress (3). If you want to learn about stress and nutrition, check out this article.

Mindfulness is complete awareness of our thoughts, emotions and experiences at all times and without judgement

What is mindful eating?

As you can probably guess, mindful eating applies the concepts of mindfulness to our eating habits. It involves honouring our bodies through food, listening to our needs and giving our body what it wants without judgement. This can be a pretty scary when you’re used to dieting and controlling your food intake, so hopefully this article will help with that!

Here are how a few concepts of mindfulness apply to mindful eating:

- Awareness (3): To be able to eat mindfully, we have to be aware of what food is available to us to be able choose the foods that we like and will nourish us. We also should try to be aware of our hunger and fullness cues and use them to guide our food choices.

- Non-judgement (4): This focuses on trying to eliminate any guilt surrounding our eating and our body and what it wants without judgement.

- Patience (4): TAKE YOUR TIME!!! Mindful eating is not something that is easy and putting diet culture aside can be difficult! Learning how to listen to our bodies takes time and is a continuous process. Also take time as you are enjoying food. Take the time to truly taste foods.

- Trust (4): We’ve been taught not to trust our bodies’ natural signals, to eat at certain times ( oh and definitely not passed 7pm 😒, to ignore our hunger, to eat certain portion sizes and more. Mindful eating is based on trusting and accepting that our body will make the right choices and tell us what it needs, when we need it.

- Acceptance (4): We need to work on accepting our bodies as they are, accepting our food wants and needs and our emotions surrounding food and our eating habits.



Can I eat anything when I practice mindful eating?

Yes! This is not a diet. The goal of mindful eating is to listen to your body and honour what it wants. This can be extremely scary, especially for people coming from a place of restriction, don’t hesitate to reach out to a registered dietitian for help with this! This is part of the trust process. Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat does not mean you will lose control around food. Trust yourself.


What are the benefits of mindful eating?

Some of you may be thinking: “I would only eat junk food all day if I could eat whatever I wanted”, “There is no way I would stop eating when I should” or “I would eat 25 cookies if I let myself ”. Studies have actually shown that mindful eating can actually help with reducing overeating (5). If you want a cookie, eat the cookie! Pay attention to how it tastes and take the time to savour it! You will likely find yourself being satisfied after one or two cookies and be able to move on with your day. Often times, overeating is a reaction from restriction (physically or emotionally) and NOT of allowing yourself to have foods. Mindful eating is linked to health benefits in chronic diseases like diabetes (6), it can help encourage positive eating habits (7) and help reduce impulsive eating (5). Eating mindfully can lead to a better relationship with your body, and better body image as you learn to accept and honour its needs (8). Mindful eating is not a diet, it is a way of eating that can be followed for life!


Can everyone eat mindfully?

Definitely! Most people can benefit from the tips that I will present below. If you suffer or have suffered from an eating disorder, please reach out to a registered dietitian or health care provider for guidance as it is not always possible to start with mindful eating.. If you follow a specific therapeutic diet for a health condition, you can include mindful eating tips with the foods that are included in your diet, reach out to a registered dietitian for help!


What if I am really busy?

I totally get it. Implementing can seem daunting when you live a busy lifestyle and barely have time to sit down to eat. Start with one meal a day or even one meal a week! Small steps can lead to lifelong habits.

Can my kids also eat mindfully?

Encouraging your kids to try mindful eating with you is a great thing to explore! Kids naturally listen to their hunger and fullness cues while eating, so you may actually be able to learn something from them! The tips below can also be adapted to your and your family’s needs.


How can I start eating mindfully?

Here are some simple ways to start to integrate mindful eating into your life:

1. TAKE TIME : Sit down at a table to eat and give yourself time to enjoy your meal.


2. REMOVE DISTRACTIONS: Remove all distractions from the dinner table, (no TV, phones, books…)! This will allow you to focus completely on your food.


3. USE ALL YOUR SENSES :

👀 Focus on the way your food looks? What colours do you see? What shapes do you see? Is there steam coming off of your plate because it is hot?

👃🏼 What does it smell like? Can you think of the spices you may have used?

🖐🏼What is the texture of the food in your hand or in your mouth? Place your hand over your plate, can you feel warmth? Or cold? When you place the food item in your mouth, what is the texture? the temperature? When you bite into it- is it hard, chewy, juicy?

👂🏼What sound does it make when you bite into it?

👅How does it taste like? Is it sweet, sour, bitter, salty, umami? What flavours stand out the most?

** Do not judge what your sense are telling you :EX: This is too sweet, it looks bad. Just pay attention**


4. ENJOY YOUR FOOD: Time the time to savour your food each bite! When we talk about eating, the first sense that comes to mind is definitely taste, a large part of mindful eating is taking the time to enjoy each bite of food! This allows to slow down and reconnect positively with the experience of eating.


5. HONOUR YOUR BODY: If you’re hungry, eat! If you’re full, stop eating! (I know, easier said then done) Check in with your hunger at multiple points during the day to see if you are hungry and need something to eat. During your meal, make sure to take the time to check if you’re full or need to put more food onto your plate. This definitely takes practice and if you have been restricting your food or ignoring your hunger and fullness cues for a long time, it may be more difficult for you to feel when you should start and stop eating. With time and introspection, it will get easier to gain back this understanding of your body, please reach out for help if you need it!


* If you struggled with an eating disorder or restrictive eating - you may not be able to trust your hunger/satiety cues . Int his case, skip this step. Eat what was planned ahead.


Conclusion

Mindful eating is a good way to check in with our bodies right now and make sure that we are giving ourselves what we need without judgement.

Talk to a registered dietitian who includes mindful eating in their practice to help guide you in this journey (Many of us now offer all services online). Remember that mindful eating is a continuous journey and does not have to be done perfectly to benefit you.

Marie-Pier Pitre-D'Iorio, RD, B.Sc.Psychology

Thank you Céleste Bouchaud, RD (yay!!!) for this much needed article!

References:

1. Mindfulness. Definition of Mindfulness by Merriam-Webster [Internet]. [cited 2020 Mar 29]. Available from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mindfulness

2. Nelson JB. Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat. Diabetes Spectr. 2017 Aug 1;30(3):171–4.

3. Harris, C. Mindful Eating — Studies Show This Concept Can Help Clients Lose Weight and Better Manage Chronic Disease. Today's Dietitian; 2013. Vol 15 No. 3 p. 42

4. Kabat-Zinn J, Hanh TN. Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. Random House Publishing Group; 2009. 499 p.

5. Hendrickson KL, Rasmussen EB. Mindful eating reduces impulsive food choice in adolescents and adults. Health Psychol Off J Div Health Psychol Am Psychol Assoc. 2017 Mar;36(3):226–35.

6. Fanning J, Osborn CY, Lagotte AE, Mayberry LS. Relationships between dispositional mindfulness, health behaviors, and hemoglobin A1c among adults with type 2 diabetes. J Behav Med. 2018;41(6):798–805.

7. Gidugu V, Jacobs ML. Empowering individuals with mental illness to develop healthy eating habits through mindful eating: results of a program evaluation. Psychol Health Med. 2019;24(2):177–86.

8. Alberts HJEM, Thewissen R, Raes L. Dealing with problematic eating behaviour. The effects of a mindfulness-based intervention on eating behaviour, food cravings, dichotomous thinking and body image concern. Appetite. 2012 Jun 1;58(3):847–51.

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The Balanced Dietitian