Mindful Eating and Disordered Eating Prevention

“The core principles of mindful eating include being aware of the nourishment available through the process of food preparation and consumption, choosing enjoyable and nutritious foods, acknowledging food preferences nonjudgmentally, recognizing and honoring physical hunger and satiety cues, and using wisdom to guide eating decisions.” –Cheryl Harris, MPH, RD

Despite our many individual differences, people have a lot in common.  We all need air to breathe, clean water to drink, shelter and warmth, and we all need to eat.  With regard to food, some of us are vegetarian, some strictly meat eaters, some gluten-free for health reasons, some have restrictions based on respective religions or due to chronic conditions like diabetes.  Regardless, we all need to eat several times a day, in order to live well and be well.  Food nourishes our bodies, minds, and spirits.  When we eat mindfully, we intentionally tap into that 3-fold nourishment and feel a deeper satisfaction than we do simply by eating mechanically.

To get a picture of what mindful eating might look like, let’s take a peek at some opposite scenarios:

  • It’s 7 in the evening and you haven’t eaten anything since that bagel at 11 a.m.  You’re famished so you grab the container of leftovers from the fridge and eat it quickly as you scroll through your social media account.
  • You’ve prepared a lovely meal for your family so you all might have some quality time together.  You’re so focused on your kid’s behavior (what they’re not eating, how much they’re fidgeting, whether or not they’re feeding the dog under the table) that your own food gets cold and you lose your appetite.  You end up heating your plate after the kids have gone to bed and eat in the living room while watching the news.
  • It’s been a long day.  You curl up on the sofa to watch a show.  You’re not hungry but you decide to get some munchies anyway.  You don’t want to dirty a bowl so you eat straight out of the bag of tortilla chips. Before you know it, you’ve finished the whole bag, you feel bloated and remorseful.

In each scenario, you haven’t paid attention to what you’re eating, how you’re eating, and/or when you need to eat.  Letting ourselves get too hungry is a signal of not paying attention.  Eating while we’re multitasking (driving, working at the computer, talking on the phone, or even being overly engrossed in conversation with the people we’re sharing a meal with) distracts us from mindful eating. 

Disordered eating is very common in our society – many of us eat when we’re not hungry either because we’re eating too fast or doing too much at once to notice that we’ve had enough. We skip a meal because we’re too busy or because we don’t feel like eating (it’s inconvenient, we don’t have time, we don’t have anything in the house).  In short, we let ourselves get too hungry or too full.  We have to pay attention and slow down to prevent this from happening.

Whatever the circumstances of when, where, with whom, and what you eat, take a moment to pay attention to the food.  Take a deep breath and pause for a second to notice your hunger cues.  Is your stomach rumbling?  Do you feel slightly woozy from low blood sugar (something we are all susceptible to if we don’t eat frequently enough)?  Take a look at the food.  Notice the colours and textures.  Smell your food.  When you take a bite, savour the flavour.  Pay attention.  Notice how it feels as the food makes its way to your belly.  Chew your food well.  Breathe between bites.  Close your eyes for a second and breathe deeply.  Maybe light a candle, use a nice placemat for yourself and use your best dishes.  Honour yourself.  Eating is an important part of self-care. 

There will be times when you have to eat in the car or in a noisy room or when you have to put off eating longer than is idea. But by increasing your awareness of your hunger and satiety cues, what and how you’re eating will help you to feel better, more grounded and centered. 

If you’re unsure of how much or how often you should be eating, ask your doctor or consult with a registered dietitian.  You’re worth it!

By Tara Hope, MA, RCC