How to Practice Mindful Eating & Why
How to Practice Mindful Eating & Who Can Benefit
What is Mindful Eating, How to Eat Mindfully + Mindful Eating Exercise
What is mindful eating and who can benefit from it? Lately, mindful eating has become a popular subject, and it does offer numerous potential benefits for our health and eating habits. But, it’s also important to note that it isn’t for everyone. Today we’re talking about how to practice mindful eating and why you might (or might not) want to give it a try.
We’ve discussed mindfulness throughout this course: a nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. And, through this lens, mindful eating is relatively simple to understand. It’s the practice of bringing mindfulness to our meals.
When I was first learning about how to practice mindful eating in my own life, I was resistant. I didn’t want to eat slowly, and I didn’t want pay that much attention to my food! Thankfully, I learned that mindful eating doesn’t have to be super slow. And, I was encouraged to find out that it can actually help to reduce binge eating behavior.
But, I also learned that mindful eating can be problematic for other kinds of eating behaviors—particularly restrictive or anxious food behaviors. In today’s video, we’re diving into all of this: what is mindful eating, how to practice mindful eating in your own life, and who might benefit from it. Plus, I’ve included a free guided mindful eating exercise below for anyone who’d like to give it a try!
Mindful Eating & Binge Eating
During my mindfulness journey in grad school, I was researching all of the things: emotional intelligence, mindfulness, nutrition education, healing disordered eating habits. And, along the way, I came across the MB-EAT® program (Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training), which focuses on binge eating through the lens of mindfulness.
MB-EAT® is a 12-week program that helps those struggling with binge eating (and overeating in general) to approach these habits in a new way. Rather than resisting or restricting food, the program approaches binge eating with mindfulness and mindful eating tools. I decided to dive into how to practice mindful eating and I became certified in the program last year.
It made sense to me that mindful eating could help with binge eating behaviors—given the fact that most people “tune out” during a binge, and mindful eating encourages us to tune in. When we binge, most of us are not aware of our physical body sensations during eating. We may become aware of these sensations afterward, if we consume so much food that we become sick. But, at this point in a binge, it’s too late for us to make use of that inner wisdom.
Certainly, becoming more attuned with our bodies—developing what’s called “interoceptive awareness”—can help to decrease binge eating. And, whether you identify as a binge eater or just struggle with overeating, most of us rarely sit down to eat without distractions! So, learning how to practice mindful eating can be very enlightening to experience. This is the focus of the MB-EAT® program: bringing mindfulness to our meals and our eating behaviors.
Let Me Know Your Thoughts:
After this course over done, I may choose to host a small group to guide people through this program (or an adapted/modified variation). If you’re interested in participating, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or reply to today’s course email and let me know so we can connect.
How to Practice Mindful Eating
Again, mindful eating is just bringing mindfulness to our meals and eating behaviors. Below, I’ve included a few guided audio exercises from the program for you to try, so you can learn how to practice mindful eating on your own. I recommend taking your time with these and doing them in the order listed below! No need to do them back-to-back—give yourself time to process each experience.
Also, keep in mind that a regular mindfulness practice is equally valuable, if not more so. There’s loads of research from the MB-EAT® program that indicates not just mindful eating, but also general sitting and guided mindfulness practices (like meditation) can help to decrease binge eating episodes.
Guided Mindful Eating Exercises
Thankfully, modern neuroscience has revealed our brains’ inherent plasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s natural capacity to “re-wire” itself in response to learning or new experiences. Basically, we can change our brains, and we can do it at any age. This is why habit formation is possible in the first place—and this is why transformation is possible!
Mindfully Eating a Raisin
The first mindful eating exercise involves mindfully eating a raisin, and it will only take about 10 minutes.
Sit down somewhere alone and undistracted with 4 raisins on a plate. Then, listen to the guided audio and follow along. Once you’ve finished the exercise, download today’s journal prompt and reflect on the experience.
(If you’re in my Mind Over Meal Prep course, you have access to a written reflection worksheet for these exercises in Module 1C).
Mindfully Eating a Meal
Then, explore mindfully eating a meal in the next exercise!
Sit down with a full meal (home-prepped if possible, but not required), and make sure you’re alone and undistracted. Take your time going through the exercise and, again, reflect afterwards!
I cannot emphasize the power of reflecting and journaling about these experiences enough. Having the experience can provide insight, but reflection is essential for us to deeply absorb our experiences.
The Disordered Eating Spectrum
When it comes to disordered eating, there’s a bit of a spectrum and cycle. Get curious as you explore the disordered eating spectrum below, including whether and how it relates to your own eating patterns.
Many people identify as “binge eaters,” or report having tendencies to binge eat or overeat. (I have been one of these people!) But, if these people are also chronically dieting, then they’re restricting, too. Dieting IS a form of restriction. When we cut calories to consume a daily deficit, we are restricting our intake. And, when we do this long enough, the binge-restrict cycle can kick in (more on this tomorrow) and lead us to binge.
Most people go back and forth between bingeing and restricting. On the one hand, it’s physiological: our body feels that it needs food when we’re restricting, and then binges when food is available. And, on the other hand, it’s also emotional: stress, anxiety, and unmanaged emotions drive us to turn to food to cope.
The point is, many people stuck in the dieting mentality vacillate back and forth between bingeing and restricting. Yet, all too often, we mistakenly think dieting is the solution to our bingeing problem—when it’s really a cause driving our bingeing problem.
In this course material, I am commenting on binge eating as it relates to disordered and compulsive overeating, emotional eating, and stress eating as coping mechanisms, rather than binge eating disorder (BED) specifically. Although the MB-EAT® program is designed for people struggling with both, the material in this course is intended for educational purposes, and for you to consider and integrate at your own discretion.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or think you need specialized help, please contact a mental health professional. For crisis situations, you may reach out to the National Eating Disorders Association helpline.
Is Mindful Eating Necessary & Is it for Everyone?
On my personal journey, I was actually very averse to mindful eating initially. Every time I’d try to eat “slow” and pay so much attention to the food, I ended up feeling quite triggered by the experience and really disliking the food. In fact, for this reason, the MB-EAT® program is not intended for those struggling with anorexia or severe restriction.
And yet, I still healed my relationship with food through mindfulness. So, how can that be?
Because mindful eating is not the same as mindfulness. Learning how to practice mindful eating specifically may help reduce binge eating tendencies, primarily by tuning in and focusing on the food. But mindfulness itself can help us to change all kinds of behaviors, including restrictive eating tendencies.
Rather than focusing on the food, mindfulness helps us notice what’s happening in our minds and bodies. And, by noticing the thoughts and feelings that drive food restriction (i.e., anxious, tense, ashamed), we can learn to respond differently.
What is Mindful Eating vs Mindfulness?
Mindful eating is the practice of bringing mindfulness (nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment) to our meals. Like mindful dishwashing, or mindful showering, mindful eating is just one way and one daily context in which we can practice mindfulness. So, mindful eating isn’t some silver bullet—it’s just one of many mindfulness practices.
More than anything, what really surprised me about the MB-EAT® program was the powerful impact of mindfulness meditation—separate from mindful eating. In MB-EAT’s® research studies, participants who engaged in more mindfulness practice and meditation also lost more weight.
Even without focusing on the food, mindfulness does so much to develop our inner wisdom. It increases our emotional intelligence, increases our interoceptive awareness, helps us re-regulate our bodies, and rewire our brains thanks to neuroplasticity! ALL of these things work together in a nonlinear fashion to heal our minds AND our bodies—and it doesn’t need to do ANYTHING at all with the food. That is, if you don’t want it to be about the food.
I know, it seems paradoxical—to work on healing our relationships to food, without thinking about or dealing with the food. But I assure you, not only my personal experience, but also the research I’ve explored and shared throughout the course so far supports this theory.
There’s no right, wrong, or single way to heal our relationships with food. We are organic integrated humans, and the process will be different for each of us. So, tune into your inner wisdom to decide if mindful eating can be supportive on your journey right now—or not! It’s always here to revisit later.
Today’s Journal Prompt:
After doing one of both of the mindful eating meditation exercises, take time to journal and reflect on the experience:
- What was the mindful eating experience like for you?
- Did you notice anything about the food, your body, your thoughts?
- What challenged you, and what surprised you?
- Will this experience have any influence on your eating habits? Did you gain any insight about yourself?
MB-EAT® Research Studies:
- Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT) for Binge Eating: A Randomized Clinical Trial
- Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training for Treating Binge Eating Disorder: The Conceptual Foundation
- An Exploratory Study of a Meditation-Based Intervention for Binge Eating Disorder
- The MB-EAT Program® (Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training)
Mindful Eating Books & Videos:
- The Joy of Half a Cookie by Jean Kristeller
- Well-Nourished by Andrea Lieberstein
- Mindful Eating My Favorite Christmas Cookies – Mind Over Munch
- Mindfulness Meditation 101 – Mind Over Munch