The term mindfulness has become popular because it encourages conscious awareness of whatever the focus may be. Mindful nutrition is the act of paying attention to our food, on purpose, moment by moment, without judgment. It’s an approach that focuses on the individual’s sensual awareness of the food and their experience of the food.
It has little to do with calorie, carbohydrate, protein or fat content. The purpose of mindful nutrition is not to lose weight, although that is often an outcome for those who adapt this style of eating. The intention is to help individuals be fully present for their eating experience.
There are many benefits that are associated with mindful nutrition and eating – let’s discuss.
Why Practice Mindful Nutrition?
- It teaches us to listen to our body: respond to hunger cues, and recognize when we’re full.
- There’s more focus on appreciating each and every bite, with little concern for restricting intake.
- No specific food restrictions. It’s eating for both optimal satisfaction and satiety.
- Learning to eat mindfully helps reduce emotional eating, like when we’re sad or anxious.
- Helps to develop a positive relationship with food.
- By paying attention to how food makes you feel, it may lead to making healthier choices.
The Mindful Nutrition Cycle
The mindful nutrition cycle was developed by Michelle May, who wrote the book: Am I Hungry? What to Do When Diets Don’t Work.
This cycle asks very important questions which help to uncover what your physical and emotional eating cues are. Are there any situations you’re aware of that trigger you to eat when you’re not hungry?
What can you do to manage your stress better besides eating? What types of foods do you select when you turn to food to help cope with that stress?
By asking yourself these questions, it can break the overeating and restrictive eating cycle.
Can Mindful Nutrition Help With Weight Management?
Mindfulness is quickly becoming a recommended way of changing peoples’ eating behavior with food. In 2015, a review of 19 studies that used the mindful eating approach to diet found significant weight loss in 13 of the studies (1). Further, a meta-analysis published in 2019 concluded that mindful eating could be a practical approach to weight control (2).
Both of these analyses did mention that there were limitations to these studies and the relationship with mindful nutrition and weight loss is unclear.
Eating mindfully has the potential to address problematic eating behaviors and challenges many face with controlling their intake. A literature review found that there is strong evidence for the efficacy of mindfulness in reducing the frequency and intensity of binge eating symptoms.
In summary, mindful nutrition can have a beneficial impact on disordered eating and assist with positive behavioral changes. However, more research is needed to determine the effect of mindful eating and weight loss.
It Focuses on Behavior Change, Not “Diet”
With mindful nutrition, the primary focus is not to lose weight – in fact, it’s more of an “anti-diet” approach.
That being said, many people turn to specific diets for weight loss, but find they are usually only successful short-term. Those who develop the mindful eating skills may find a positive relationship with food and weight long-term.
However, it’s a learned skill which will take a lot of practice. Most of us are so used to eating whatever we have on our place, while mindfulness teaches us to savor every bite and stop eating when we are full or satisfied.
Mindful Nutrition Exercise
This mindful nutrition exercise was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, an American professor who defined mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, with no judgment” (3).
A raisin was originally used for this experience, but you could use any piece of food you prefer.
1. Get a raisin and set it down in front of you.
2. Imagine you have been dropped down to Earth from another planet. With no experience, there are no judgments, fears or expectations.
3. Pick up the raisin and examine it. Feel its weight.
4. Examine its surface – the shiny parts, the dull parts, the ridges.
5. Smell the object and notice your reaction.
6. Roll the raisin around between your fingers and feel its texture, listen to what sound it makes.
7. Place the raisin between your lips and hold it there for a few seconds. What do you notice happens inside you?
8. Let it roll into the back of your mouth but don’t chew it yet. Is there a taste? Do you salivate?
9. Take one bite – what do you notice?
10. Slowly being to chew, noticing what each bite brings.
11. Chew the raisin until it is completely liquified before you swallow (or count 30 chews).
12. After swallowing, close your eyes for a few moments and notice the consequences of what you just experienced.
The Principles of Mindful Nutrition
How to Practice Mindful nutrition
Start small – select one meal a day where you sit down and practice the principles of mindful nutrition. Ensure that you’re experiencing hunger cues prior to this meal. Before starting, take a few deep breaths to relax.
It might help to journal your thoughts and feelings while putting the mindful nutrition principles in place. If you figure out the answers to the questions in the mindful nutrition cycle, write them down.
Once you feel more comfortable with the mindful nutrition approach, think about practicing with two meals a day with the goal of reaching all three plus snacks.
It may take time to become comfortable with eating mindfully. For many of us, it requires changing how we think about food and relearning how to approach eating.
This can be especially hard for us busy moms, who barely have time to sit down and eat for 5 minutes without interruptions.
Practicing the principles of mindful eating will likely promote positive eating habits, even if you don’t remember to all the time. Whether it’s once a day, once a week, or every now and then – it’s an approach with positive, long-lasting benefits.
Eventually, it might be something that comes naturally to you.
If mindful nutrition sounds like it would be of benefit to you, I highly recommend working with one of the many intuitive and mindful eating dietitians who offer one-on-one counseling.