The many benefits of ‘mindful eating’ and how to start

Growing up, I remember my mother telling my sister and me to “stop inhaling” our food, to slow down so we didn’t choke.

As it turns out, Mom was ahead of her time. For her, asking us to slow down, chew our food and appreciate what we were eating was about safety, and perhaps an appreciation of her good cooking.

But she was also asking us to practice mindfulness, an idea you’ve probably heard about.

Mindfulness means being in the present, and doing all that you do with focused awareness. It’s the opposite of the racing mind full of thoughts and worries, pulling us away from the present moment.

The practice of meditation is probably the ultimate tool for achieving a state of mindful relaxation

We’re finding out that, when applied to eating, the principles of meditation and mindfulness can have profound health benefits.

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What is mindful eating?

The recognition of this practice and its health benefits is growing. The Center for Mindful Eating is a rich resource for information on the subject.

Mindful eating doesn’t start when you sit down to a meal. It begins way before that.

How you select your ingredients, how you prepare your meal, and when you eat it are all components of practicing mindful eating.

Eating mindfully means:

  • Using all your senses when you eat
  • Being aware of how quickly you eat
  • Thinking about how food nourishes more than just your body
  • Being non-judgmental with yourself around eating

That last one has the potential to help you maintain a healthy weight.

While there is no scientific evidence for mindful eating as a successful weight loss strategy, it does sharpen your ability to recognize internal cues that tell you when you’re hungry, and when you’ve had enough to eat.

Research does, though, point to mindful eating as a tool for dealing with stress-related and other health conditions effectively.

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Mindfulness for IBS and diabetes

Research is pointing to mindful eating as a way to reduce the symptoms of stress-related conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.

It’s also suggesting that mindfulness and mindful eating are novel and potentially powerful ways for people with diabetes to stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels and prevent their condition from wreaking havoc on their health.

When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Paying closer attention to what, when and how you eat, and eating in a more relaxed state, can only help conditions like these.

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Crohn’s and Colitis found that a mindful eating practice can help reduce symptoms and stress levels in patients with IBS.

Sixty patients were assigned to either a control group or a group who participated in 16 weeks of multi-convergent therapy (MCT), a combination of mindfulness meditation and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Those who took part in therapy had a significantly more positive score on a questionnaire that rated their symptoms and quality of life over a period of four months.

In another study, mindful eating was associated with fewer blood sugar spikes and a higher quality diet in people with Type 2 diabetes.

And, mindful eating is a potential way for diabetics and those with IBS to take control of their condition, which reduces stress and improves their long-term health outcomes.

How to start eating mindfully

Mindful eating is really becoming a mainstream practice.

Harvard Medical School offers eight steps you should take to move your eating habits in the direction of mindfulness.

1. Begin with your shopping list. Avoid impulse buying (don’t shop when you’re hungry!). Consider the nutritional value of every item you put in your cart.

2. Eat meals when you’re hungry, but not starving. Don’t skip meals and come to the table in a ravenous state. Come with a good appetite.

3. Start with small portions. Nine inches or less is a good rule of thumb.

4. Be grateful. Stop for a moment before you eat. Notice and give thanks for the people at your table, the flavors you are about to enjoy, and the nutrition your food offers you.

5. Bring all your sense to the meal. That starts while you’re cooking or preparing it, and continues with eating.

6. Take small bites. It’s easier to taste when your mouth isn’t full.

7. Chew thoroughly. Twenty to forty times, at least. You’ll be surprised at the flavors that are released.

8. Eat slowly. Of course, this goes without saying. Bolting your food has no part in a mindful eating practice. In fact, take five minutes just to eat and enjoy your food before you have a conversation.

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  1. You Asked: Should I Try ‘Mindful Eating?’Time
  2. Mindfulness-based therapy for inflammatory bowel disease patients with functional abdominal symptoms or high perceived stress levelsJournal of Crohn’s and Colitis
  3. Comparative Effectiveness of a Mindful Eating Intervention to a Diabetes Self-Management Intervention among Adults with Type 2 Diabetes: A Pilot StudyJournal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
  4. Introduction to Mindful Eating — The Center for Mindful Eating
  5. Can You Lose Weight On the Mindfulness Diet?Time
Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.