What is Mindful Eating? Is It Better Than Dieting?

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Girl enjoying each morsel of her food

Being mindful while eating food promotes better digestion through keeping your hunger in control with lesser food intake. It also contributes to wiser choices of food in the future. You will have healthier choices of foods.

Do you remember the last time you ate good food? Between work-life balancing and fulfilling every other demand of life, eating has become a trivial activity that has lost its importance. 

Don’t you feel that you have become so busy that answering an email and watching TV has become more important than food in your life? Did you ever think of savoring the meal that keeps you alive? Imagine taking time and enjoying every morsel of food you eat.

How about giving a thought to mindful eating and learning to practice it? After all, we eat to stay alive. Don’t you think so?

Let us know everything about mindful eating and why it is important to cultivate it.

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is to observe your body’s responses towards the food you are eating and understand your relationship with food. It’s all about the taste, pleasure, and satisfaction of every bite. You just need to accept and acknowledge rather than judge your sensations. 

Study [1]National Library of Medicine: Mindful Eating: A Review Of How The Stress-Digestion-Mindfulness Triad May Modulate And Improve Gastrointestinal And Digestive Function finds that mindful eating is not about eating the right food or being perfect. It is not about restricting the number of calories too. It is in fact, about bringing together all your senses to the food you eat. The process of mindful eating starts right from buying ingredients, cooking the food, serving it, to finally eating. Mindful eating is all about maximizing the food experience no matter what is on your plate, based on your likes and preference.

How to eat mindfully?

  • While eating, do not rush, eat slowly
  • Take small bites
  • Chew the food properly
  • Switch off the television
  • Stay away from your phone
  • Create a silent ambiance
  • Focus on your senses
  • When you feel satisfied, stop eating
  • Retrospect the purpose of eating – Hunger or health reasons

You can apply these to one meal a day initially. Once you get the hang of it, you can apply these to every meal you eat.

What constitutes a mindful eating exercise?

Mindful eating practice involves being physically and mentally aware of the food that a person is consuming. By doing so it makes us more aware of our body, its real requirements, its hunger signals, and its sense of satisfaction too. 

Learning to distinguish between real hunger and fake cravings, or between real physical satisfaction and unhealthy gastronomic comforts goes a long way in keeping the body healthy. Make sure to keep the following principles in mind when you practice mindful eating:

  • Recognize your body’s requirementsLack of awareness and familiarity with the body’s rhythms and requirements is the primary reason for most of our health problems. Mindful eating teaches you to observe your body and understand its nutritional, caloric, and sensory(taste) requirements. It tells you when it is hungry or when it is full. Learn to give your body enough time to send these signals and learn how to recognize them.
  • Understand your hunger signals- Often, we notice that the sight, smell, or even the thought of food makes us crave for it. At other times increased stress levels in the brain and the body can make us eat like we have been starving for days. Mindful eating expects you to put all other thoughts aside when you sit down to eat. Once you do this, you can differentiate between real hunger and eating just for the sake of eating.
  • Connect deeply with your food- Don’t be fooled by the spiritual-sounding name. Mindful eating is a deeply physical and sensual practice. It involves picking up food that is not only nourishing but also pleasing to all your senses. Every time you serve yourself a plate make sure to engage your sense of smell, touch, sight, and taste. These experiences make you love your food even more. 
  • Reflect on the impact of your food on your body: While you are eating, and immediately after you have eaten, pay attention to the impact of food on your system, mood, and emotions. 

What are the benefits of mindful eating?

In this rushed world that offers us many distractions but very few moments of peace, mindful eating offers physical and mental benefits. The priceless feeling of satisfaction that comes with savoring every bite of food goes a long way in soothing a stressed mind. Below are 7 more benefits of mindful eating:

Improved understanding of hunger and fullness

Eating without any interruptions or distractions, and following mindful eating, will lead to an increased understanding of your hunger and fullness. Your stomach takes time to register that it is full. So, slowing down while eating will give time to your body to indicate fullness.

Rather than gobbling up all the food on your plate, you will begin to learn how much food you actually want. This will stop your emotional eating habit i.e, eating just because there is food available around you.

Better digestion

Sometimes, due to anxiety and stress, your gut will be overactive. Irritable bowel syndrome, a digestive condition, is triggered by stress. Research says that mindful eating promotes better digestion as it lowers the chances of overeating due to stress. Moreover mindful eating promotes other small healthy eating practices such as slow eating and more chewing. Chewing has been proven to enhance the digestive process.

Maintains healthy body weight

A study [2]National Library of Medicine: Eating attentively: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating has found that mindful eating promotes healthy body weight maintenance. Mindful eating helps in stopping your consumption when you are full, eliminates mindless eating, and deliberately alters your choice of foods. As there is no chance of overeating while practicing mindful eating, it leads to weight loss.

Reduces stress

As mentioned earlier, stress can alter your eating patterns and cause over-eating, under-eating or even complete starvation. During this time, the cortisol levels of your body are also high. A research [3]National Library of Medicine: Effects of Mindfulness-Based Interventions on Salivary Cortisol in Healthy Adults: A Meta-Analytical Review suggest that mindful eating helps in lowering the levels of cortisol and reduces stress.

Eliminates over-eating & binge eating

Mindful eating provides a better understanding of what you are eating along with a constant check on intake. This breaks the cycle of overeating and binge eating by promoting slower eating. A research [4]PubMed: Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: a systematic review says that mindful eating eliminates eating disorders like emotional eating. This positive eating practice goes a long way in reducing depression and anxiety.

Improved satisfaction with food

According to a research “with mindful eating, you have an increased awareness of your satisfaction levels.” We normally end up eating more food when distracted. Mindful eating habits will lead to a reduction in episodes of  overeating and more meaningful eating. This way, you will feel satisfied after every meal, leading to the intake of a balanced diet.

Healthier food selections

When you know how food can make you feel, you tend to choose nutritious food that has more vitamins and minerals. As the chances of emotional eating is negligible, you will focus more on eating foods that give you energy. In other words, your food choices will make you feel content and happy instead of feeling sluggish and bloated.

How to fit mindful eating into your life

Being mindful of every bite might sound unrealistic to you. Your everyday work pressure leaves you with a limited time window and forces you to eat on the go. Sometimes, you might even go hungry or end up eating junk food. Even when it seems like you cannot practice strict mindful eating, you can still keep off mindless eating if you try. Try these tips:

  • Before eating, you can breathe deeply to contemplate what you are about to eat. Think whether you are eating because of hunger or if it is just an emotional signal?
  • Also, think if you are eating nutritionally healthy food or eating to just comfort your emotions. If you are eating at your office desk, take time to focus on your food rather than the phone or your computer.
  • Consider mindful eating as an exercise where every bite counts. Slow down, concentrate on the process of eating and listen to your body. You will have greater satisfaction and greater control over nutrition and eating habits.

Mindful eating vs dieting

You often get confused between the two terms. Given below are the differences between mindful eating and dieting.

Mindful EatingDieting
You can choose foods according to your likes, your mood, and how the food makes you feel.You must choose what is recommended even though you don’t like or enjoy what you are eating. 
You eat only when you feel hungry or when your body asks for it.You eat when it is time to eat regardless of whether you feel hungry or not.
Prioritize quality (flavor, taste, and juiciness) while savoring every bite you are eating.Prioritize characteristics (low fat, calories, and carbs) without paying attention to taste.
You stop eating when you are satisfied and full (when you no longer feel hungry)You stop eating when you finish everything on your plate (even though you are still hungry)
You say NO to food when you are not hungryYou say NO to food just because they are not recommended

Mindful eating is a wonderful strategy to regain control of the patterns of your eating while developing your understanding of the texture, color, and flavor of food. This improves your comprehensive sense of savoring the food you consume.

Mindful eating is the right blend of a nutritious diet for healthy weight loss. Even if you are out of the house for the majority of the day, you can practice mindful eating exercises whenever or wherever you eat. Imbibing this as a habit though takes time, but all you need is just a little dedication and time management.

Take away

Making mindful eating a regular habit will take time. But little patience towards this new skill will transform your old eating pattern. Over time, you will learn to be mindful of food and reduce binge-eating and overeating, thus enhancing your overall well-being.

If you have already started working on the tips of mindful eating and you are facing any challenges, you can consult a dietician or a nutritionist who might suggest other ways of practicing mindful eating.

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