Mindful Eating: Defining, Demystifying and Determining Practical Applications, Part 1by Lisa Diers, R.D., L.D., E-R.Y.T.
Mindful Eating is a phrase often used in our country and, over the years, it has been a practice closely associated with weight control, among other things. But what is mindful eating anyway? What are the benefits? What are the challenges? Is there a time and a place for mindful eating in eating disorder treatment? If so, how and when? How can it be incorporated into life practically? Together, over this three-part series, we’ll explore these questions more closely.
Today we’ll begin with defining mindfulness and mindful eating. Mindfulness is a practice that is an innate part of our human experience. If you look closely and curiously, you may begin to notice that historically, mindfulness has been an integral part of just about every religion, spiritual practice, focused movement and, really, the human experience.
Mindfulness is not new. It’s our human capacity to be fully conscious, aware and in the present moment. Mindfulness is sustained moment-to-moment awareness. It is often referenced back to the ancient Buddhist practice of building awareness.
For example, one way to think of mindfulness is the act of bringing awareness of one’s external surroundings, wandering thoughts, emotions and sensations in the body, and how we may or may not react to these experiences. Mindfulness promotes awareness and acceptance of the present moment, taming the often ruminative and unsettled aspects of the mind. Fortunately, there are several tools within each person that can be utilized to begin the journey of mindfulness and one’s ability to build these calming skill sets.
Sustained moment-to-moment awareness may seem like a daunting task to perform, especially in our distraction-laden culture. I totally get it! I am constantly practicing mindfulness and the following mantra has helped me begin and sustain my practice: “The art of being mindful is knowing when you are not!”
For example: If awareness can be built when the mind wanders, then the opportunity exists to bring the mind back to the present moment. The practice of gently and curiously shifting back to the present moment can help to build a positive and sustainable practice of mindfulness.
Some Principles of Mindfulness:
- Mindfulness is deliberately paying attention, non-judgmentally (or inviting a curious awareness of when judgment arises)
- Mindfulness encompasses both internal processes and external environments
- Mindfulness is being aware of what is present for you mentally, emotionally and physically in each moment
- With practice, mindfulness cultivates the possibility of freeing yourself from reactive, habitual patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting
- Mindfulness promotes balance, choice and acceptance of "what is"
Now, how does this relate to food and eating?
The eating experience is a practice which, in one way or another, we all encounter every day. Whether you look forward to eating in a balanced way or are struggling with it, it is something that every human has awareness of on a daily basis.
Since eating is something we “do,” it holds the same possibility for “sustained moment-to-moment awareness” as any other activity. By focusing on what we can do to increase mindfulness or bring non-judgmental awareness to the eating experience we can begin to make thoughtful and nurturing choices around the selection, preparation, and ingestion of the food we eat. The practice of mindful eating can also enhance the eating experience in powerful ways. Preparing and eating food engages all five of our bodily senses. When we practice mindful eating, we practice a full-spectrum approach to eating that can (with time and practice) lead to a calming, satisfying and fulfilling experience.
Some Principles of Mindful Eating:
- Allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food preparation and consumption by respecting your own inner wisdom
- Choosing to eat food that is both pleasing to you and nourishing to your body by using all your senses to explore, savor and taste
- Acknowledging responses to foods (likes, neutral or dislikes) without judgment
- Learning to be aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decision to begin and stop eating
Until we “meet” again, consider practicing awareness around meal times. Starting, perhaps, with the mantra “The art of being mindful is knowing when you are not” and bring a gentle and curious awareness to the wandering thoughts of the mind during different aspects of the eating experience. To help bring yourself back to the present moment, try the following:
- Invite in a deep inhale and long exhale breath
- Bring your feet to the ground and notice how they feel touching the support beneath them
- Notice and name the colors, sounds, textures, tastes or smells of the food around you
Remember, it’s a practice. This may or may not be right for you. Trust yourself that you know what you need. Each time you bring curiosity to life’s experiences you open the door to learning and positive transformation.
Didonna. F. (Ed.) (2008). Clinical Handbook of Mindfulness.
About the Author
Lisa is The Emily Program's Director of Nutrition and Yoga Services. Lisa oversees the national operations of both nutrition and yoga departments, which includes the direction and oversite of the clinical practices for 65+ nutrition staff and 20+ yoga instructors. She has over 10 years of eating disorder specific experience in yoga instruction, clinical nutrition counseling and program development. Lisa draws from her deep knowledge base of nutrition, yoga, body image and eating disorder treatment to meet clients' physical and emotional needs. She develops and conducts national eating disorder and body image sensitive yoga trainings and is also a regular blogger on nutrition, yoga and body image; a published author (articles, book chapters and published research); and continues to conduct research to better understand the role of yoga and nutrition in eating disorder recovery.