Mindful eating is increasingly being promoted as a solution to being overweight. Mindful eating, we are promised, will help us eat less, transform our relationship with food and end our battle with weight once and for all. The truth is, we simply can’t say with confidence that mindful eating can help with weight management.
This is not because of a lack of trials. There have been plenty of evaluations of mindfulness-based weight-loss programmes, and many of these have shown that people do indeed lose weight. But these programmes tend to incorporate other elements that have little to do with mindfulness. For example, people may be provided with nutritional advice or be prompted to think about their motivations for weight loss. They are also likely to attend group-based workshops and, in doing so, may benefit from the support and encouragement of other group members. As such, we don’t know whether it’s the mindful eating that’s helping these people lose weight or the non-mindfulness bits of the programmes.
It’s much easier to rule out these factors with experiments in a laboratory. And here there is good evidence that some mindful eating strategies can influence what a person eats. In particular, getting someone to focus on the sensory properties of their food while eating (for example its taste, texture, look and smell) can reduce the amount of high-calorie snack food they eat later on. But we don’t really know why.
One possibility is that this approach lets people maximise the amount of sensory pleasure they get from their food, as opposed to simply eating in order to fill up. This could lead to a person choosing to eat less because the more we eat a food, the less pleasure we get from it; the first bite of a large chocolate brownie may taste quite heavenly, the last bite possibly a little sickly. So if we stop eating sooner, the average amount of sensory pleasure we get from the experience will be greater than if we proceed to stuff down every last morsel.
But, if this is the case, this strategy could cause someone to eat more when they’re not hungry, because food can be pleasurable even when we’re full, such as when we eat dessert after a large main course. It may also have little effect on those who are dieting if they are already restricting their portion sizes (and getting them to focus on sensory pleasure could make them forget about their weight-loss goals). Indeed, although this type of mindful-eating strategy has been found to reduce snacking in both normal weight and overweight people, none of this research has been specifically carried out with people who are trying to lose weight, nor have the effects been carefully examined outside the lab. It’s possible that people compensate for reduced intake on one occasion by eating more at another time.
Thinking about food-related thoughts
Another mindful eating strategy that has been shown to influence eating behaviour is that of noticing people’s thoughts about food and trying to create a distance between the thoughts and the person. For example, a individual might be asked to think of themselves as the driver of a bus, and all their thoughts about food (“I really need chocolate”, “I deserve chocolate”, “I can’t cope without chocolate”) as noisy passengers on the bus; the passengers can make as much racket as they like, but the driver is still in charge of deciding where they go. This type of strategy has been shown to help people resist tempting foods.
But, again, these studies were conducted with people who were interested in eating more healthily, not people who were dieting to lose weight. In fact, other similar research suggests this type of strategy may have no additional advantage for those who already have weight-loss goals in mind.
Other mindful eating strategies
Of course the two strategies described above are not the only ways of eating mindfully. As well as paying attention to what you’re eating, and noticing your food-related thoughts, mindful eating can also be about becoming more aware of feelings of hunger and fullness or of particular cues that trigger over indulgence (a work success, a lover’s rejection).
In principle they could help someone manage problem eating, which may in turn help them lose weight. But at this point we simply don’t have the evidence to state this with confidence. So, although there may be many good reasons to eat mindfully, losing weight is not necessarily one of them.
About the Author
Katy Tapper, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, City, University of London
Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food (Revised Edition)
Food. It should be one of life’s great pleasures, yet many of us have such a conflicted relationship with it that we miss out on that most basic of satisfactions. But it is possible—and not really all that difficult--to reclaim the joy of eating, according to Dr. Jan Bays, and mindfulness is the key. Her approach involves bringing one's full attention to the process of eating—to all the tastes, smells, thoughts, and feelings that arise during a meal. She shows how to:
· Tune into your body’s own wisdom about what, when, and how much to eat
· Eat less while feeling fully satisfied
· Identify your habits and patterns with food
· Develop a more compassionate attitude toward your struggles with eating
· Discover what you’re really hungry for
Whether you are overweight, suffer from an eating disorder, or just want to get more out of life, this book offers a simple tool that can transform your relationship with food into one of ease and delight.
This new edition, updated throughout, contains a new chapter on how to provide children with a foundation in mindful eating that will serve them well all the rest of their lives. It also includes a link to a 75-minute on-line audio program of mindful eating exercises led by the author.
The Mindful Eating Workbook: Simple Mindfulness Practices to Nurture a Healthy Relationship with Food
Studio: Althea Press
Label: Althea Press
Publisher: Althea Press
Manufacturer: Althea Press
Establish a practice of mindful eating with actionable strategies and exercises from The Mindful Eating Workbook.
Eating mindlessly is easy―eating mindfully takes practice. The Mindful Eating Workbook offers actionable, mindfulness-based strategies and exercises to adopt a mindful eating practice and nurture a healthy relationship with food.
Vincci Tsui, a “non-diet” dietitian and certified Intuitive Eating counselor, offers step-by-step guidance to core concepts and philosophies of mindful eating. Applying theory to practice, this mindful eating workbook uses a combined approach of reflective exercises and strategies to reconnect you with your body and your needs.
The Mindful Eating Workbook includes:
- Mindful eating 101 explores the lifelong benefits of eating mindfully, and outlines how you can bring this practice into your life.
- Real strategies to practice mindfulness while cooking and eating, and using mindfulness to recognize your body’s signals.
- Reflective exercises that include assessments, journal entries, and observation logs to keep track of your journey and progress.
Savoring flavors, intuitively nourishing your body, and appreciating food’s true purpose to provide energy―mindful eating isn’t a diet, it is a way of life. Start practicing mindful eating with The Mindful Eating Workbook.
Binding: Kindle Edition
Format: Kindle eBook
- Lilian Cheung
Common sense tells us that to lose weight, we must eat less and exercise more. But somehow we get stalled. We start on a weight-loss program with good intentions but cannot stay on track. Neither the countless fad diets, nor the annual spending of $50 billion on weight loss helps us feel better or lose weight.
Too many of us are in a cycle of shame and guilt. We spend countless hours worrying about what we ate or if we exercised enough, blaming ourselves for actions that we can't undo. We are stuck in the past and unable to live in the present—that moment in which we do have the power to make changes in our lives.
With Savor, world-renowned Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh and Harvard nutritionist Dr. Lilian Cheung show us how to end our struggles with weight once and for all.
Offering practical tools, including personalized goal setting, a detailed nutrition guide, and a mindful living plan, the authors help us to uncover the roots of our habits and then guide us as we transform our actions. Savor teaches us how to easily adopt the practice of mindfulness and integrate it into eating, exercise, and all facets of our daily life, so that being conscious and present becomes a core part of our being.
It is the awareness of the present moment, the realization of why we do what we do, that enables us to stop feeling bad and start changing our behavior. Savor not only helps us achieve the healthy weight and well-being we seek, but it also brings to the surface the rich abundance of life available to us in every moment.