The concept of “mindful eating” is not new to most; it seems like everywhere we look on social media, these two words seem to be popping up everywhere, but what exactly do they mean? You might think this new perspective is pretty self-explanatory, and you would be right. Simply put, mindful eating is exactly as it sounds, being intentional and aware about what we are putting in our bodies, how our foods are affecting our bodies, and how our diet is impacting us both physically and mentally. We’re going to further break down this intentional practice in hopes of providing clarity and inspiration to change your own life for the better.
What does mindful eating look like?
The way we listen to our body when we feel tired at the gym and know to take a rest, the way we choose to relieve symptoms when we can feel ourselves getting sick; these are just a few of the ways we listen to our bodies and the same principle applies to our eating habits.
To practice mindful eating is to put our body's sensations before our cravings and to truly assess if the “hunger” we’re experiencing is actually hunger or if it's another factor: boredom, stress, sadness, environmental factors, and so many others.
Mindful eating is listening to your natural hunger cues and taking intentional action. Without even realizing it, we often allow our minds and cravings to take over instead of thinking rationally and listening to the signals our entire body is telling us. For example, how many times have you been out at a party or in company and eaten when you weren’t hungry to begin with, simply because others around you were eating? How many times have you found yourself thinking you should prepare a meal solely because it was a certain time of day and normally people eat around this particular time, but you’re not really even that hungry?
These are all moments where mindful eating comes into play. To eat mindfully is to listen to your body and your body alone. This practice requires a certain thoughtfulness that is often overlooked such as ignoring factors within and outside of our person such as the environments we find ourselves in, the emotions we’re feeling, and the cravings that seem impossible to ignore.
We must listen to our bodies and ask ourselves, am I experiencing hunger or are my circumstances or emotions taking control to make me think I am hungry?
One way to tell if you’re hungry or not is to think of something not very appetizing, then ask yourself if you would eat that. We’re not saying something gross you wouldn’t normally eat, but something bland and not very appealing such as a plain baked chicken breast or cucumbers. These are random examples, but they get the point across. Mindful eating means to assess your actual level of hunger; if you know your body needs fuel, eat up, but if you’re eating according to your emotions or environment or any other factor outside of your true hunger cues, then it might be time to ask yourself the real reasons you’re chowing down.
Wildway Takeaway: Our definition for mindful eating is putting your body's natural hunger cues above the cravings and desires of your mind. Pay attention to how you're feeling when you're chowing down and the environment you're in.
Breaking the diet mindset – what are the benefits of mindful eating?
Research has consistently shown there is a connection between the mind and gut; this research explains the brain takes about 20 minutes to register that we are full. From this we can understand that if we eat too quickly, then we can easily overeat before our body has a chance to register that we’ve reached satiety. Distraction can also lead to overeating, for example, we’ve all experienced the time we sat in front of the TV and soon realize we’d gone through an entire bag of chips.
Mindful eating slows us down and brings awareness to just how much we’re consuming in one sitting, and this awareness can help us prevent overeating and consuming excess calories, thus preventing weight gain.
Alleviate Unhealthy Eating Tendencies
Mindful eating has also been shown to be a potential treatment for those struggling with eating disorders, specifically binge eating. Binge eating is a highly emotional behavior and when paired with mindful eating practices, allows one to process their feelings and emotions while eating. This practice helps to resolve underlying issues through means other than excessive food intake. Mindful eating acknowledges one’s reason for eating, is it emotional or out of hunger?
According to a study of the correlation between Mindfulness and Binge Eating or Loss of Control Overeating, among 101 participants, the practice of mindful eating was found to be negatively correlated with both binge eating and inability to control overeating tendencies.
Wildway Takeaway: Research shows it takes 20 minutes for our brains to register we're full; therefore, we should take our time chewing to prevent overeating. Mindful eating can be helpful in resolving eating disorders such as binge eating, as it allows one to practice intentional eating habits.
What are some mindful eating practices I can implement?
- Eating slowly and without distractions from screens
- Listening to your hunger cues to understand when you’re full
- Distinguishing between true hunger and appetite influenced by external triggers
- Eating mostly real foods to honor and respect your body
- Learning to cope with guilt and anxiety surrounding food
- Appreciating and being grateful for the ability to have food to nourish the body
- Being aware of the way foods make you physically and emotionally
- Portion out snacks to avoid distracted snacking
Why You Should Try Mindful Eating
Whether you’re trying to lose weight, conquer disordered eating behaviors, or whatever other intentions you may have, mindfulness practices should be incorporated in all aspects of our lives.
Mindfulness can exist not only during meditation or your evening walk, but even in moments when we’re eating.
In the moments throughout your day when it seems most absurd to practice mindfulness that the very practice should be: brushing your teeth, driving, refueling your car, and yes, even eating your food.
Mindful eating has many more benefits than the ones mentioned here, and we strongly encourage you to do research of your own to understand the many positive outcomes of being more mindful in every facet of your life.
For more research-based reading: