Eating Mindfully: A Balanced Approach

Hey guys! My name is Natalie and I am one of the Wellness Interns at Chartwells this spring. I’m here to talk to y’all about a relatively new and progressive practice called mindful eating.

Mindful eating is not dieting. The main focus is on your behaviors, preferences, and respecting your body. To eat mindfully you have to consider your intentions when eating. Do you eat when you’re hungry? Emotional? Maybe when you’re anxious? Understanding why you eat is just as important, if not more important, than nutrition when it comes to mindful eating.

As a dietetics student, honestly even as a female millennial, I think of food as fuel and calories. When I plan my meals, I consider my macronutrients, calories, and what I should be eating. Unfortunately, the concept of good foods, bad foods, shoulds and shouldn’ts lead to many of us forming restrictive diets, and negative relationships with food.

This is where mindful eating comes into play. There are a few things you can do while eating that can really influence mindful eating. It is key to slow down, think about the foods you’re eating and how those foods make you feel. What are the textures and tastes of those foods and how fulfilling were they? These are questions to ask yourself while practicing mindful eating.

To help yourself pinpoint why you eat, it can help to identify the way that your body feels and how you feel before you eat. For example, when I’m going from hungry to very hungry on the hunger pendulum, I start to feel my body kind of lag throughout my activities which causes me some anxiety. This can mean that by the time I eat, I am eating out of anxiety and stress rather than that original hunger. This change in emotion and intention might lead to overeating rather than eating until I am full. This type of self-awareness is a factor that can really support mindful eating.

Intuitive eating is all about eating to be a caregiver. Eating to be a caregiver revolves around two main intentions with food: nourishment and pleasure.

Nourishment does not come from counting calories or sticking to a diet, it is more about being aware and respectful of your body.

While nutrition is not the key concept of mindful eating, being aware of what the foods you eat do to your body is crucial. Respecting your body by giving it foods that will help it thrive, while also enjoying the tastes and textures of the foods is the ultimate dynamic.

It is important to view all foods as “legal” and to use gentle nutrition while practicing mindful eating. The main goal is to find a way to achieve and sustain mindful eating.

When we begin restricting our diets and thoughts on foods, we are less likely to maintain this eating dynamic, therefore it is important to be gentle when forming our food goals. Finding a balance between fun foods and nutrient-rich foods is one way to incorporate this practice in your life and maintain.

Media suggests that nutrition is a black and white field. You’re either healthy or not, thin or fat, and so on. This is all just complete BS. Nutrition, like most things in life, has grey areas! And mindful eating is right in the middle of that grey. When practicing mindful eating it is important to understand that everyone’s bodies, schedules, and limitations are different. With this in mind, how could we all have the same nutritional needs?

It is allllll about your behavior. Having a healthy relationship with food through mindful eating has actually show strong links between BMI and disordered eating. A 2015 study titled, Contributions of Mindful Eating, Intuitive Eating and Restraint to BMI, Disordered Eating and Meal Consumption in College Students, found that compared to college students who practice restraint eating (such as dieting), college students who practice mindful eating tend to have lower BMIs and decreased disordered eating. What this suggests is that while mindful eating is not about reaching a goal weight or BMI, once an individual truly practices eating mindfully some of those original goals might be met. It is important to not let go of your goals but to approach them in a healthy, aware way.

If after reading this post you find yourself drawn to mindful eating and you want to learn more about the practice and how to pursue it correctly, check out bodykindnessbook.com, amihungry.com and intuitiveeating.org!