Guest blog post by Stephanie Gutzmer, AuD, E-RYT
Food and eating are a part of everyday life, so much so that you probably never gave it much thought. But mindful eating asks you to do the exact opposite – pay attention – which can improve physical and mental health. So why is this seemingly simple task being touted as a way to lose weight? And what does it have to do with your mental health? Keep reading to learn the many benefits of mindful eating.
What is Mindful Eating
Eating doesn’t need much of an explanation for anyone. However, mindfulness may produce a few questioning looks. Mindfulness is paying complete attention to your present moment experience. It means having an awareness of not only your thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations, but also how they all interact to create your current experience. Mindfulness is the recognition of what is going on around you and how that affects your inner world.
Mindfulness contrasts to the default for many – a mind fixed on dreaming, worrying, planning, or regretting. When thoughts are on the past, future, or imaginary world, you act mechanically in the present. The mind-less-ness caused by lack of awareness can result in unhelpful behavior patterns and damaged relationships. When you aren’t aware, your mind creates a reactionary story based on assumptions and minimal facts.
So mindful eating is exactly what it sounds like – being aware of the present moment while eating. It involves paying attention to all your senses, both physical and emotional, with each bite. Even going so far as allowing your food to inspire your thoughts – wondering where it came from, how it was produced or farmed, the individuals that helped bring it to your plate, how it was prepared, its environmental impact, and so on.
Mindful Eating Exercise
According to Susan Albers, PsyD, author of The Mindful Appetite, there are three simple steps to mindful eating:
- Notice all of the senses, tastes, smells, and textures to the food eaten
- Recognize repetitive habits that involve food, such as multitasking while eating or eating on autopilot with no conscious awareness of actually eating
- Be aware of physical or emotional cues that trigger the initiation and cessation of eating
To begin practicing mindful eating, it helps to eliminate distractions: turn off the television, set down your phone. It’s best to pick one meal a day to practice in the beginning. With experience, it will become more natural and comfortable.
Ultimately, mindful eating is placing your awareness on eating itself, which includes your emotional and physical sensations. Mindful eating can help you become aware of your relationship with food, offering insight into ways you may wish to improve it.
Keep Learning – Mindful Eating Exercise: Back to the Basics
Weight Benefits of Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is a focus on the process of eating, not what or how much is eaten. However, it can help with the waistline, because as you become aware of what you eat and how it makes you feel, you ultimately make healthier choices.
According to research completed by Joyce Corsica and colleagues in 2016, “Mindfulness has the potential to improve weight loss and behavior change through a variety of mechanisms, including increased awareness of internal experiences (hunger, mood), adaptive emotional coping, and cognitive flexibility.” The process of being mindful in and of itself makes you more aware of how your food choices affect you, physically and emotionally.
Mindful eating also can prove to be a beneficial lifestyle choice through its effect on the physiological stress response. Practicing mindfulness techniques, when stressed, helps counteract the fight or flight response and works to calm your internal system down. Mindful eating can result in decreased hunger and preference for high sugar and high-fat food.
Weight-related benefits of mindful eating occur through an increase in awareness of eating habits, improve food choices, increase self-control, and reduce overall stress. Mindful eating isn’t necessarily a weight loss program, but it can help promote long term improvements by addressing unwanted eating behaviors.
Related Reading: 12 Ways to Practice Mindfulness for Teen Anxiety
Mental Health Benefits of Mindful Eating
The mental health benefits of mindful eating result from a regular mindfulness practice. The more aware we are of the present moment, the better our mental well-being.
The benefits of mindfulness are extensive, including improved immune system functioning, reduced cortisol and blood pressure, improved attention, decreased persistent negative thoughts, improved resilience, and reduced emotional reactivity. And according to a 2014 study by Zaynah Khan and associates, mindful eating not only promotes awareness of food impacts but leads to acceptance of experience, rather than constant evaluation.
Much of our suffering can come from our resistance to or continuous, persistent thoughts surrounding not the event itself, but our story of the event. Mindfulness helps you take a step back from the overwhelming emotion or thought to gain some perspective. This perspective helps you take actions more aligned with your desires and not get pulled by thoughts or feelings.
Megrette Fletcher, co-founder of the Center of Mindful Eating explains mindful eating is different than dieting because it helps promote a healthier relationship with food and yourself. “We all have habits that aren’t really serving us anymore. The hype about dieting and weight loss is misleading… restriction, and punishment won’t help you be healthier.”
Mental well-being is a factor that affects every aspect of your life, including coping ability, productivity, and relationship bonds. And eating is a daily experience. So why not explore a practice that allows you to improve both?
When to Ask for Support
Mindful eating is a way to improve your relationship with food, as well as your relationship with yourself. However, it can be challenging to get started and is not an appropriate solution for all food-related concerns. If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, seek help from an experienced mental health counselor. Our counselors at Life Care Wellness are here to help through individual or group therapy. If you are in the Chicago area, we have offices in Glen Ellyn and Jefferson Park, so contact us today.
Stephanie Gutzmer, Au.D., E-RYT
Stephanie is a certified yoga instructor and life coach, specializing in health and mindfulness coaching. She also holds a doctorate in audiology, specializing in tinnitus. She collaborates with her clients to develop an individualized plan of specific goals and provides guidance to overcome practical and emotional barriers in reaching them. Her unique background and training allows her to support her clients in ways that make positive physical, mental health and well-being change in their lives.