This post is going to dive in into mindfulness, mindful eating, and why you should give it a shot to see if it will affect your eating patterns in a positive way too.
In the past few decades, there has been an enormous increase in obesity, especially in the Western population, and particularly in the US. A review from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that in 38 states across America, at least one in four adults were obese – to contrast this, in 1991 there was not one state that had an obesity rate above 20%. Adding to that the projected double increase of people who are over 65 years old, the health care costs will dramatically increase in the years to come. This becomes even worse when we consider the increasing rates of chronic disease that threaten the daily quality of life.
Sadly, despite all the efforts being made on this field, solutions to the problem of obesity on a grander scale seem to be out of our reach for some reason, as even the most promising weight loss interventions were not able to prevent higher percentages of people from regaining weight (yo-yo dieting) – this is also a reason eating healthy with a change in the mindset, and not just losing weight, is crucial. However, one study observed that even short-term weight loss; people regained their weight back, still decreased certain risk factors of different symptoms of obesity, such as high blood pressure, type two diabetes, and increased risk for cardiac arrest.
So why am I saying all of this?
Well, apparently grand scale weight interventions are likely to fail, which is why we always must take in account the psychological, social, as well as economic determinants of health.
And this is where mindfulness and eating come into the game.
Mindfulness itself dates back to Buddhism. The scientific version of understanding mindfulness could be defined as:
The awareness that emerges when paying attention in a particular way, that is, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally
The concept of mindfulness has been gaining popularity in the recent years, and a lot of people selling different self-help books and therapies have repackaged this concept a bit differently and have made a buck out of it. Mindfulness, or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) therapy, has been well established in clinical trials. It reduces pain, depression, and is helpful with anxiety disorders.
And to eat mindfully means to simply apply this concept to eating.
Mindful eating is basically paying attention to the experience of eating and/or drinking. You are aware of what you are doing, aware of the smell, the food, texture, flavor, and temperature, of your food.
And you do all of this non-critically. You do not judge what you are doing, you just observe and monitor yourself and your surroundings. You become aware of the present and stay in the present with your thoughts while you are eating. You do not think about issues that seem to bother you, or issues that you have to do tomorrow, or chores that you didn’t do yesterday.
But this sounds like gibberish
As I’ve mentioned the MBSR therapy having a solid foothold in reduction of pain, depression, and anxiety, eating mindfully has shown its value in different settings as well. More emphasis has been put on clinical populations, such as cancer patients, morbidly obese patients, and binge eaters, as opposed to a general, non-clinical population. However, that does not make this any less interesting.
While some of the presented studies had wacky methodology, their results converged into the same outcomes. And these outcomes tell us that eating in a mindful way most probably will help with the mentioned symptoms, if they are present in your eating patterns.
In people with binge eating, an intervention in the form of mindful eating reduced the number of binge eating episodes, lowered depression, anxiety, as well as improved stress management. Some of these results, however, were not statistically significant, they could have happened by chance.
Mindful eating in general could be especially helpful for binge eating because of the nature of this disorder itself. Some research shows that emotional eating occurs because people cannot distinguish between emotional distress and hunger and/or have a lack of awareness of their hunger cues.
In women with bulimia nervosa, they found greater self-awareness and acceptance, less emotional distress, and an improved ability to manage stress after the program. In cancer patients, mindful eating has been shown to help their appetite – following chemoradiation, some have experienced anorexia, weight loss, fatigue, and nausea. An intervention seemed to improve their ability to recognize and attend to internal, rather than external, cues when it came to eating.
These patients also confirmed that mindfulness itself helped them with dealing and managing emotional distress.
- Eating mindfully means eating in a way that is not judgmental, we pay attention to all aspects of the food we eat, and we pay attention to our surroundings, we also stay in the present with our thoughts while eating.
- Mindful eating can cut binge eating episodes, help with certain anxiety, depressive, and stress symptoms.
- It can help us become more aware of our internal cues for eating.