Bio: Jill Rohlfs is a first year Nutrition and Dietetics student at Rowan University in New Jersey. She is a vegan that follows a plant-based diet and enjoys distance running, practicing yoga, trying out new recipes, and spending time with her family when she is not studying or working. Jill is working towards a BS in Nutrition and Dietetics and a MS in Nutrition as she hopes to become a Registered Dietitian.
Before defining mindful eating, it is useful to know what mindfulness is. Mindfulness is defined as deliberately paying attention, without judgement, to all internal processes as well as your environment.1 To be mindful is to be aware of your current mental, physical, and emotional state during each moment.1
What is mindful eating?
Knowing what mindfulness is useful when defining mindful eating. Mindful eating is being aware, both physically and emotionally, of what and why you are eating.2 Mindful eating also means bringing awareness to the opportunities that food preparation and consumption presents, choosing to eat food that is pleasurable as well as nourishing, acknowledging positive and negative responses to food.1 Most importantly, mindful eating is listening to your body’s hunger and satiety cues and allowing yourself to make mindful decisions regarding when to begin and stop eating.1 It makes sense that mindful eating is being studied and discussed more and more as the number of people with diseases of excess, especially obesity, are increasing. The prevalence of obesity in adults 20 years or older has more than doubled from 1960 to 2010.3 It is likely that because of this increase, people are becoming more interested in mindful eating.
While it is easy to define what mindful eating is, it is harder to imagine what mindful eating looks like. A person who eats mindfully understands that there is not one way to experience food and accepts their individual experiences with eating.1 Additionally, he/she understands that their relationship and experiences with food and eating can change over-time.1 Knowledge and the ability to reflect on the effects of mindful eating versus mindless eating on both the individual and on their environment is also a part of mindful eating.1 While mindful eating is unique to every individual, these are some of the characteristics of a person who eats mindfully provided by The Center for Mindful Eating. It is important to recognize that mindful eating is a lifestyle, not a traditional diet.
What are the benefits of mindful eating?
Many people use mindful eating as a way to lose and maintain weight. Because mindful eating is a lifestyle and not a diet, there is more potential for the changes in weight to be permanent.4 This is especially true because mindful eating isn’t centralized around restricting and starving, but it focuses on making reasonable, long-term changes in lifestyle.4 It is well-known that Americans are exposed to a variety of drastically different diets and most of those diets are not successful long-term. When someone goes on a popular diet, it is likely that their weight will fluctuate drastically during their experience. When someone adopts mindful eating habits, it is more likely that their weight will decrease and be maintained more easily.
Overweight and obese individuals are likely victims of the dieting culture in America. By determining why food choices are made and educating people to make better choices, they will be more likely to incorporate healthy eating into their lifestyle.2 After participating in a mindful eating intervention lasting six weeks that included: weekly two hour classes, mindful meditation, mindful eating, and group discussions, ten obese patients lost a significant amount of weight as well as a lower BMI score.6
Mindful eating can also be beneficial to mood, energy, and mental capacity because it encourages people to use food as nourishing fuel for both the body and mind.4 If a person looking to make positive changes to their physical, mental, and emotional well-being, focusing on mindfulness and mindful eating is a great place to start.
How do I eat more mindfully?
One theory, the on-demand feeding theory, says that there are three steps to mindful eating: eating when we are physically hungry, eating what we are physically craving, and stopping when we are full.7 This theory suggests that if we tune into our bodies and listen to its natural cues, we can govern when, what, and how much we eat.7 In other words, the theory is based on the assumption that our bodies can regulate its weight as well as our eating as long as we learn to listen.7
One way to implement mindful eating is to take up a mindful meditation practice. A unique example of mindful meditation, a Raisin Meditation, specifically addresses both mindfulness and mindful eating. The University of West Virginia provided a roadmap that guides you through the eight stages of a Raisin Meditation. The eight steps are: holding, seeing, touching, smelling, placing, tasting, swallowing, and finally, following.8 First, you take the raisin in your hand and focus on it as if you have never seen it before. Second, you take the time to really look at the raisin carefully and notice the uniqueness of the raisin. Next, you explore the way that the raisin feels to the touch. After examining the way the raisin feels in your hand, you bring the raisin to your lips and then into your mouth to explore the raisin with your tongue. Next, you take your time chewing the raisin slowly and noticing how it feels to chew and taste the raisin. When you are ready, you take the moment to recognize the intention to swallow and notice what that experience is like, and then you swallow the raisin. Finally, follow the raisin on its journey into the stomach and take notice of how your body feels after the experience.8 This raisin meditation is meant to bring awareness and mindfulness into your daily life and experiences with food.
1. Principles of Mindful Eating. The Center for Mindful Eating. Available at: http://www.thecenterformindfuleating.org/principles-mindful-eating.
2. Berdal LM. The Relationships of Eating Mindfulness and Demographic Characteristics, Physical Activity, and Focus of Academic Major among College Students. 2012.
3. Overweight and Obesity Statistics. Overweight and Obesity Statistics. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/pages/overweight-obesity-statistics.aspx.
4. Kelly, T. (2014). Mindful eating techniques to answer the question: "am I hungry?". Bariatric Surgical Practice and Patient Care, 9(1), 50. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/bari.2014.9963
5. The Center for Mindful Eating - Meditation. The Center for Mindful Eating 2015. Available at: http://thecenterformindfuleating.org/meditation.
6. Dalen, J, Smith, BW, Shelley, BM, Sloan, AL, Leahigh, L, Begay, D. Pilot study: Mindful Eating and Living (MEAL): Weight, eating behavior, and psychological outcomes associated with a mindfulness-based intervention for people with obesity. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2010;18(6):260–264.
7. White KM. MINDFUL EATING FOR CHILDREN. Journal of Psychology and Theology. 2014;42:308.
8. Williams M, Teasdale J, Segal Z, Kabat-Zinn J. Eating One Raisin: A First Taste of Mindfulness. 2007. Available at: http://hfhc.ext.wvu.edu/r/download/114469.