Let’s start off by saying that eating mindfully isn't a new kind of diet, in fact it’s the complete opposite of any diet you’ve ever tried. You eat what you want, when you want and there’s not all that much else to it.
Dr Susan Albers, author of Eating Mindfully and Eat Q: Unlock the Weight-Loss Power of Emotional Intelligence says: “It is about being more aware of how you eat than what you eat. Mindful eating is not a diet. There are no menus or recipes. We all have mindless eating habits whether it is sitting on the couch and popping pretzels unconsciously into our mouths or eating at noon whether you are hungry or not. Mindful eaters are aware of their habits, hang-ups and how they eat. They stay one step ahead of their hunger. They eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full.”
Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? The idea of eating mindfully has been around for centuries but that doesn’t mean it’s outdated, in fact it could be the answer to our modern day convenience-eating dilemma.
And it’s not just a fad claim either. Celebs like Goldie Hawn and Gwyneth Paltrow rate it and even Oprah loves it. There have been articles of converts in The New York Times, The Independent and more recently, The Telegraph.
Now this sounds pretty fantastic but we can’t help thinking is ‘mindful eating’ just jargon? Can it really work?
What is Mindful Eating:
Have you ever been sat at your desk, gorging on that chocolate bar whilst staring blankly at the screen until before you know it, the chocolate has gone and all you’re left with is a STRONG urge for more, even though you really don’t actually want it?
Well this is exactly the kind of habit that eating mindfully seeks to put an end to.
Dr Susan says: “Mindful eating helps you to eat slower, savour and stop eating on autopilot. My clients call mindless eating 'zombie eating'.”
With mindful eating you're not thoughtlessly cramming in food because you think you should - but this doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Willpower is the key to harnessing the art of mindful eating. There’s no magic force making you complete it, no weigh-in groups or recipes to follow to help, a lot of eating mindfully is down to you.
It’s also hard to ignore years of what people have been telling you to eat. Whether you follow the 3-meals per day plan, the 5 small regular meals, or anything else, a life of conflicting food lessons can be quite difficult to un-learn.
So that means that technically, if your body is telling you to have a packet of plain old nuts for lunch then you can go for it.
Susan says: “You can eat the foods you love—mindfully and still lose weight.”
She also says that if you put your mind to it (sorry, couldn’t help it) then eating mindfully is something that anyone can master.
“It’s much easier than many people think. When they start to tune in, it’s more difficult to slip into autopilot behavior. However, it does take repeated practice. Habits are sometimes hard to shake. We go back to them automatically when we are stressed,” she says.
According to British statistics, as many as a third of British women are on some form of diet and, on average, spend 31 years of their lives on said diets. It seems like we women have no idea what our bodies want, what they need and how to be healthy – what eating mindfully can teach you is to be in touch with all of these things. Susan says that eating mindfully can harness a natural and healthy attitude towards food.
“When you eat mindfully, you feel more in control. You also enjoy your food more. When people enjoy their food, they tend to eat less. Mindful eating helps to stop stress eating. When you are eating mindfully, you just eat when you are hungry,” she states.
And it’s not just for weight loss either. Eating mindfully claims to help with all sorts of other ailments.
“Just cutting out mindless eating—without doing anything else can have a fantastic impact on your weight and body. Mindful eating has been shown to help improve your body image, reduce your BMI, cope with diabetes, reduce binge eating. In other words there are a lot of benefits! This leads to better blood pressure, cholesterol levels and weight,” says Susan.
The plus points:
The people who tend to benefit from learning to eat mindfully are those who have a bad relationship with food. So that’s your yo-yo dieters right onto your stress eaters.
Susan says: “They tend to lapse automatically back into mindless eating when they feel overwhelmed. Practicing mindful eating when you are calm, can flip it over into a habit.”
Eating mindfully doesn’t have any immediate risks, as long as you do it properly. You can also start it straightaway! It might help to buy a book to guide you through, but Susan says that the trick is to savour what you’re eating and only eat when you’re hungry. Really, once you’ve mastered it, it should be relatively easy.
The tricky thing about us humans is the ability to be able to convince ourselves that we’re doing something properly, when really we’re cheating all the way to the fridge.
So Susan says that as long as you don’t make these little excuses for yourself, eating mindfully should work wonders.
“Sometimes clients say - I ate the whole piece of cake mindfully. They don’t realize that you can eat good foods, including cake, in a mindful way. However, sometimes people justify overeating by saying they are doing it mindfully,” she says.
It might make you into a bit of an awkward dinner guest but at the end of the day – if you’re at peace with your eating habits, frankly who cares?
Cassandra Barns, nutritional therapist at The Nutri Centre says that on the whole, eating mindfully is a great way to live your life.
“I’d definitely agree with everything about eating mindfully. Part of the reason for people putting on weight and also just being unwell, is that you’re sort of abusing your body by just throwing food into it.
"We spend so much time in this society eating as a secondary activity, like watching TV or reading the paper, or on the phone to somebody. By doing that you’re unconsciously not appreciating your food and your body isn’t being able to digest it either which means you need to eat more to get more satisfaction.
"So if you’re eating mindfully your body is satisfied with less because it’s getting more sensation and more satisfaction from the food that you are eating," she says.
Susan's 5 tips for eating mindfully:
Slow down: “Eat with your non-dominant hand. Studies show that this can reduce how much you eat by 30%! Use whatever tactics you can to slow down. It might be matching your pace to the slowest eater in the group or putting your fork down between bites. Remember this motto: 'pace not race'”.
Sense: “Use your senses. Take mindful bites—in other words before you take a bite commit to half a second to smell it, look closely, examine the texture, notice what it tastes like. Do the “like” test.”
Sit down: “Where you eat matters! It sounds simple, but eating while standing lends itself to losing control over how much you consume. Avoid eating standing up, walking or nibbling in front of the fridge. Try to dine instead of just eat. Use a real plate. A fork can feel like a luxury in our fast food culture. A nice plate makes your meal feel special and should be enjoyed.”
Stay. “Stay in the moment. If you feel yourself slipping back into autopilot or zoning out while you eat, tell yourself to 'be here'. Pinch your hand, take a deep breath, do whatever it takes to bring your attention back to the task at hand. This can move you from mindlessly plowing through a sleeve of crackers to tasting the salt on each cracker.”
Savour: “Ask yourself—do I like it or love it? Lose it if it isn’t great.”
What do you think? Convinced? Let us know by tweeting us at @wewomenUSA