Mindful Eating PART 2: can mindful eating really help you lose weight?

Mindfulness and mindful eating seem to have found their way into the mainstream health and wellness space in the past few years, which isn’t surprising considering the many benefits that come with practising them, many of which I have experienced first hand. You can read some practical tips on how to become more mindful in your everyday life, as well as what mindful eating is all about in the first part of this post.

The short version… mindful eating involves using all five senses to fully experience eating or drinking, by observing what’s going on inside you as well as around you in that moment.

When you eat mindfully you take time to notice how the food smells, how it feels to the touch, the colours and textures, the temperature and flavours, any sounds when you bite into the food. You pay attention to what is happening inside the body when you’re eating – what does hungry, full, half-full feel like? What are the thoughts and emotions you’re experiencing about the food when you’re eating it? Do you feel anxiety or stress? Guilty? How quickly are you eating?

So why is this so beneficial?

Benefits of mindful eating

There really are so many benefits of mindful eating, but here are my top 5.

number 1 You’re able to enjoy food as an experience.

Eating mindfully makes eating pleasurable rather than just something we do 3-6 times a day. Rather than it being a habit we do on autopilot, it can become so interesting and enjoyable that we don’t want to be distracted by the TV or computer at mealtime.

It’s about learning to fully experience and enjoy your food. We rarely stop to fully appreciate and taste the food on our plates, and take it from me, it’s so incredibly liberating to be able to truly enjoy food rather than feeling guilty about eating it.

For me personally, I still have to make a conscious effort to slow down when I eat meals because I’ve spent so many years devouring my food quickly because I associated food and eating with guilt and shame. A plate of food in front of me brought up a lot of conflicting feelings, and so I would eat it really fast so I wouldn’t have to feel bad anymore. I only came to realise this through my mindful eating practice, which helped me to stop and be curious about the uncomfortable feelings that came up when I ate. And now I know about it, I can let it go.

number 2It connects body and mind.

Eating mindfully helps you become more in tune with your body. It helps you understand and experience your hunger and satiated cues more easily, as well as how to listen to your body to decide what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat and when to stop eating. The more you get in touch with those feelings while you’re eating the more you’re able to identify them correctly throughout the day.

Often when we feel hungry it’s got nothing to do with food. We could be anxious, sad, angry or even bored. Getting connected with what hunger and fullness feel like, means we can decide to eat for the right reasons – to nourish our body, and know when to stop because we’re full.

number 3It can help you lose or maintain your weight

Mindful eating slows weight gain and may promote weight loss in a variety of ways.

  • It can decrease snacking. Studies show that people who focused on their lunch were less hungry for a snack later in the day.
  • It can help you eat less while feeling fuller. Studies have found that when we eat mindfully we feel more satisfied and eat less food.
  • It can decrease overeating. Research shows that those who only ate when they are hungry were more likely to be a healthy weight than those who didn’t pay attention to hunger cues when eating.
  • It can reduce emotional eating. Mindfulness in general increases emotional regulation and mindful eating provides an awareness that can help change habitual choices (see #5).
  • It may improve food choices. By being more conscious of the ritual of eating and what you’re putting in your mouth, you’re likely to make better food choices.
  • It can improve digestion which is very important for maintaining or losing weight. Eating slowly and chewing your food properly allows the nutrients to be more effectively utilised by the body, while being mindful also deactivates the sympathetic nervous system which supresses digestion.

number 4It looks at food issues from the source

Most of the time trying to lose weight is treating a symptom and not the actual problem.

Mindful eating gives us the opportunity to become aware of and look at any potential food issues we might have, and then work to understand the root cause. This has been quite profound for me as I mentioned before.

Whether it’s emotional eating, overeating or binge eating, our underlying food issues aren’t going to magically disappear just because we restrict ourselves on the latest fad diet long enough to lose weight. This is one of the many reasons many people fail to keep it off. By looking at the way we eat and our relationship with food, eating mindfully allows us to understand and then deal with our food issues.

number 5Mindful eating helps us change old habits and create permanent change

Mindful eating has the ability to transform how we eat, our relationship with food, our health and our weight, and it empowers us to make different choices.

So how does this work? Well, we can only make changes when we are aware of where we are now and we can only make new choices when we have awareness.

Eating mindfully allows us to become aware of our relationship with food, and then creates space between the desire or craving to eat and the behaviour itself.

In this space, a different choice can be made. This is how permanent change and transformation happens. These new choices then boost our confidence, self-esteem and self worth because we’re able to break negative patterns of behaviour and this newfound awareness can start us on the path of accepting ourselves for who we really are.

Simple mindful eating techniques

With all those incredible benefits, who wouldn’t want to give eating mindfully a try! Here’s my top six tips for getting started with mindful eating:

  1. Experiment with only eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full.
    This will help you become more in tune with your internal hunger and satiety cues.
  2. Unplug from electronics and avoid multitasking when it’s mealtime.
    Just be present and even try eating in silence for the first 5 minutes.
  3. Chew your food!
    Take a bite, put your fork down and then chew 25-30 chews per mouthful until the food is almost liquefied in your mouth.
  4. Start small and make it simple.
    The easiest time to practice mindful eating is first thing in the morning. Give your full attention to the first few sips of coffee or tea in the morning when you’re less distracted.
  5. Make eating a meal an experience.
    Think about how you can incorporate all five senses when you’re sitting down to eat. Eat at a table that has been beautifully set with lots of visual stimuli to keep you in the moment. Eat by candlelight, or with soothing music playing. Eat somewhere outside that’s calming and that allows you to reconnect with nature. Plate the food beautifully, in a way that creates interest in exploring the food. Take time to feel and taste the food as you’re eating it – even if it’s just the first few bites.
  6. Try new foods.
    Experiencing new foods or even your favourite foods in a new way adds intrigue and interest to a meal, making it easier to stay present and fully experience it. Try things like yellow tomatoes instead of red ones, or add different herbs to a meal you cook regularly. Another great place to find foods to get out of your comfort zone is at your local farmers market. They are often filled with new and interesting fruits or vegetables to discover.

So there you have it! Some benefits of mindful eating and some techniques to get you started.

Remember though, old habits are difficult to change, and our eating habits are so well ingrained in us because eating is something we do every day. We are used to not paying any attention to it, and going through the motions on autopilot most of the time.

The key is to make gradual changes. I’m still trying to work on this every day and I have a long way to go. But like any new skill, it takes time, patience and practice. Even just paying attention for 10 seconds out of every meal is a win! If you stick with it, just one day at a time, I know you’ll start experiencing the many benefits of mindful eating for yourself.

Let me know how you go in the comments below!

With love,

taryn-sig-gray3

 

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