Mindful Eating: Connecting the Mind with the Mouth

By Lauren Todd

Clean your plate before dessert. Make half your meal fruits and veggies. Eat a piece of meat the size of one deck of cards. It has become commonplace for Americans to let rules guide their eating habits. Although many of these rules have scientific backing and support a healthful body, they cause one to trust extrinsic factors over biological instincts. What if people simply relied on their bodies’ cues to guide their eating? This frame of thinking, deemed mindful eating, is based on this idea and quickly gaining popularity.

What is Mindful Eating?

Whether it is called intuitive eating, mindful eating, or thoughtful eating, the definition is the same: the process of basing eating behavior on physiological cues as opposed to environmental or emotional factors. A mindful eater eats when his or her stomach growls, but not out of habit at a social gathering or when bored. Once a mindful eater begins to eat, he or she focuses entirely on the food. After all, mindfulness is defined as the state of being aware and living in the present. Unfortunately, people are unlikely to pay close attention to the foods they consume.

Tips Towards Mindful Eating

  • Eat When Hungry.  More often than not, food restriction leads to subsequent binge-eating or, in some cases, serious eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia.
  • Eat Until 80% Full.  This frame of thinking is based on the eating method coined hara hachi bu by the Okinawa Japanese. The term translates to eating until one is 80 percent full, and therefore basing eating on internal motivation. At 80 percent full, an individual can be happily satisfied with his or her meal. It takes several minutes for the human body to register the idea of satiety, so eating to only 80 percent would not lead to hunger ten minutes later.
  • Take Food in One Bite At a Time.  This process helps an individual to enjoy food and allow the body to process how full it is.
  • Use All Senses to Focus on Food.  Eating slowly will allow recognition of tastes, textures, and smells, fostering a healthy relationship with food.
  • Find a Good Place to Eat.  I admit that I have eaten more than a couple burritos waiting for the subway at the Park Street T-Stop. With all the commotion around me, it is difficult to truly concentrate on the food I eat. Snacking or dining in busy locations is not conducive to mindful eating.
  • Say Good-Bye to Guilt.  Mindful eating is a way to reconnect with one’s meal in order to properly fuel one’s body. By eating mindfully, there should be no guilt associated with yielding to your body’s hunger.

Real World Applications

Mindful eating has been used to treat obesity, anorexia, and bulimia. Individuals who have difficulty maintaining a healthy weight may fail to listen to their body’s cues regarding when and what to eat. For example, it is common for an individual with anorexia to forget how it feels to be hungry. In the 2010 winter edition of The Renfrew Center Foundation’s journal, “Perspectives,” Evelyn Tribole writes that, “when an individual is in the throes of an eating disorder, she is not capable of accurately hearing biological cues of hunger and fullness.” Likewise, an individual with binge eating disorder may eat large quantities without truly focusing on the food he or she is consuming. Mindful eating helps individuals form a healthier relationship with food, therefore promoting healthy weight management.

However, there are some downfalls to mindful eating. For one, it is difficult to fit mindful eating into fast-paced lives. In addition, eating mindfully takes practice. Enjoying a bowl of potato chips is unlikely to be guilt-free the first few times. Likewise, it is difficult to learn to trust one’s bodies when inundated with so many rules regarding what, when, and how to eat.

In the future, expect to see more regarding mindful eating. In addition to nutrition, mindfulness is being used to improve numerous conditions including exercise and depression. For more information, check out The Center for Mindful Eating or Evelyn Tribole and Eylse Resch’s book, “Intuitive Eating.” In the mean time, take a moment to treat yourself to a piece of chocolate and allow your whole body to enjoy it.

*Image credit: flickr user Mountainbread

Lauren Todd is a second year student in the Nutrition Communication program at the Friedman School. Her professional interests are in eating disorder prevention. She likes to procrastinate by painting, crocheting, and playing fantasy football.

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