mindful eating for health
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Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, known for founding the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally (1).”  Mindfulness may be practiced anytime, including while eating.  Mindful eating means paying attention to the body and the senses when eating, in the present moment and without judgment.  To read more about the principles behind mindful eating, visit The Center for Mindful Eating (TCME).  TCME also offers webinars and teachings on mindful eating as well as a list of research references.

A popular hands-on way to learn about mindful eating is through the “eating a raisin meditation.”  Duke Integrative Medicine provides a mindful eating exercise, where one can use a raisin or food item of their choice, as a downloadable PDF.  After trying a mindful eating exercise, you may notice that mindful eating invites you to slow down and take more joy in your food.  The practice suggests taking an attitude of beginner’s mind.  Meaning, even if you have already eaten thousands of raisins before, you eat this one raisin as if it is for the first time—and without judgment. 

Unlike most things we do in life, there is no goal to attain when eating mindfully.  However, mindful eating may naturally provide benefits.  Since mindful eating allows you to become more aware of when you are full or hungry, you may eat more in sync with your body’s needs.  For example, a 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis, which uses agreed upon scientific methods to report findings from a group of studies on a topic, suggests that mindful eating is effective for weight loss and is as effective as dieting strategies aimed at caloric restriction (2). 

When practicing mindful eating, you may be more aware of eating habits not aligned with your personal or recommended health goals.  Research suggests that mindful eating promotes awareness of automatic eating.  Automatic eating is eating out of impulse, emotion, or habit.  Awareness of automatic eating allows you to note when internal (i.e. thoughts or feelings) or external stimuli are causing you to eat.  Upon noting, you have a better chance of responding instead of reacting to the stimuli, which may prevent or reduce automatic eating (3). 

Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT) interventions aim to do just this: to increase awareness of your body’s hunger cues, eating patterns or triggers that cause automatic eating.  In one study, MB-EAT training in people with binge eating disorder reduced binge eating episodes and eating without control.  Further, a 3-month MB-EAT program adapted for people with type 2 diabetes (MB-EAT-D) reduced weight and A1C values (3).  A1C is a biomarker used for diabetes diagnosis and management.  Taken together, mindful eating offers promise as a tool for managing health.

This article was written by Andrew Dinsmoor, University of Illinois dietetic intern, working with Kristin Bogdonas, nutrition & wellness educator, for University of Illinois Extension serving Henry, Mercer, Rock Island and Stark Counties.

References

  1. Nelson JB. Mindful eating: The art of presence while you eat. Diabetes Spectr. 2017.
  2. Fuentes Artiles R, Staub K, Aldakak L, Eppenberger P, Rühli F, Bender N. Mindful eating and common diet programs lower body weight similarly: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews. 2019.
  3. Miller CK. Mindful eating with diabetes. Diabetes Spectr. 2017.