We live in an epidemic of increasing obesity, eating disorders and an obsession with fad diets. Consequently, many people can’t stick to diet plans and develop unhealthy relationships with food. Fortunately, many people are developing a healthy relationship with food by tapping into the concept that they can eliminate emotional eating, stick to a meal plan and achieve weight loss with subconscious mind techniques. With mindful eating, you can practically eat what you want and lose weight or achieve any weight goal you have in mind! Read on to discover ways to stop emotional eating – could mindful eating revolutionise your life?

Below we delve into the research surrounding mindful eating, the benefits of engaging in it and also some mindful eating tips. Is mindful eating one of the ways to stop emotional eating? Are you a mindful eater? If you are one of those people desperate to break the hold food has on you, read on to find out more!

Mindful eating, peanut,

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is a type of meditation that aims to heighten awareness of your emotions and physical sensations while being more present with your food. It involves being fully present and focussing on your meal as opposed to being distracted by the likes of TV or your abstract thoughts. If you already engage in mindfulness or meditation or perhaps even yoga, then the concept of mindful eating probably won’t be that alien to you.

All too common is the sight of people eating on the go, slouched in front of a TV picking mindlessly at food or eating al-desko (i.e. eating at your desk in work); all such scenarios mean people are not engaging with their food, which is why mindful eating is important.

Mindful eating, yoga, meditation

Mindful eating targets the following behaviours:

  • Emotional, external and binge eating
  • Feelings of guilt and anxiety towards food
  • Developing unhealthy thoughts and labels for food

It achieves this by:

  • Distinguishing between hunger and non-hunger signals
  • Rewiring thought patterns to replace automatic/subconscious thoughts towards food with more deliberate healthy thougths
  • Encouraging slow eating with elevated focus and distractions removed
  • Enhancing awareness of your senses towards the food, e.g. flavour, smell, texture, sounds
  • Increasing awareness of the effect of food on you physically and emotionally

With regards to research, the concept of mindful eating is rather new; however, research on mindfulness-based interventions have been relatively positive in terms of treating unhealthy eating behaviours, such as binge eating, emotional eating and external eating (i.e eating in response to external cues, such as the smell/sight of food).

Some studies are exhibiting positive signs in terms of treating unhealthy eating habits associated with various diseases such as diabetes and obesity. In one study, a mindfulness-based intervention was pilotted on 10 obese individuals (mean body mass index of 36.9kg/m2 and mean age of 44 years) over a duration of 6 weeks with a 3-month follow-up. The results demonstrated significant reductions in weight, stress, depression, binge eating and impulsive eating.

That said, with the concept of mindful eating still in the infancy stage, there are some limitations to the literature, namely the limited study group which is primarily similar in terms of targetting white adult females. But don’t let that minor factor prohibit you from trying mindful eating to extinguish unhealthy dietary behaviours.

Emotional eating, sport snacks, food, binge eating

Mindful eating raisin exercise

So you want to find out if you’re a mindful eater? Well if you’re up for a bit of fun and an excuse to eat some of your favourite treats in the interest of learning, then you absolutely need to try the mindful eating raisin exercise, it only takes a couple of minutes – are you in?

  • Ok, first grab a couple of raisins, sit down and place them on the table in front of you. If you don’t have raisins, use something similar, whether it’s a couple of skittles, candy or even a few squares of chocolate.
  • Next, pick up one piece of food and eat it as your normally would. Once you’ve eaten it, take a moment to make a mental note of how it made you feel, how it tasted, how long you chewed it for and how many pieces you ate it in.
  • Now pick up the second piece of food and hold it between your finger and thumb. Take some time to carefully observe the food as if you have never seen it before. Look at the shape, size, colour, grooves, shadows etc. Move it around in your fingers to feel the texture, apply some pressure to determine how hard or soft the food is.
  • Recognise what the food is and think about any experiences or memories you have had with the food. Smell the food under your nose and identify if the food has any aromas. Pay attention to how this experience affects your mouth and stomach.
  • Slowly bring the food up to your mouth. Are you salivating? If you are, your body and mind are in anticipation of food. Slowly place the food in your mouth. Without chewing, keep the food on your tongue for about 10 seconds and explore the tastes and feelings of having the food in your mouth.
  • Now prepare to chew the food, take a bite or 2 and pay attention to what happens in terms of taste and texture as you chew it. Slowly chew the food until you are ready to swallow it. Then pay attention to it travelling down to your stomach, and take some time to reflect on how the exercise felt for both your body and mind.
  1. How does the experience compare to the time you ate the first piece of food?
  2. Did anything interesting occur or surprise you about the exercise?
  3. What did you observe when you were examining the food? Think of your senses.
  4. Did any memories develop about the food?
  5. What principles from this experience are you going to apply to eating in future?

If you swallowed the food whole on the first go, without even considering the food in terms of taste, smell, texture etc., then you’re not the only one. Don’t worry, there are plenty of books and tips for mindful eating; even just completing that exercise has probably taught you some of the core principles of mindful eating already!

Raisin mindful challenge

 

Tips for mindful eating

  • Eat slowly and remove all distractions from the area
  • Engage all your senses to appreciate and be present with the food
  • Think about how the food makes you feel
  • Be aware of when you feel physically hungry and full
  • Repetition is key – mindful eating works better the more often you practice it
  • Sit down while you eat
  • Serve the correct portions: Food portion control for weight loss and bulking – tips & gadgets

There are some excellent mindful eating books available, I’ve listed a handful that are almost guaranteed to lead to you to your goal for the long-term, whether it’s eliminating emotional eating, sticking to a meal plan or achieving weight loss:

  1. Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating and Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food
    by Susan Albers PsyD
  2. Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung (audiobook/paperback/CD available)
  3. Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

There are, of course, certain fundamental principles that apply to anyone who is looking to eat healthy; this includes eating good sources of protein, nourishing your body with healthy fats and also regulating your sugar, hunger and energy levels with adequate healthy carbohydrates.

Summary

  • Assists in developing a healthy relationship with food
  • Mindful eating can help people sticking to a diet plan, whether the goal is weight loss, maintenance or lean gains
  • Eating slow and without distraction are 2 fundamental principles of mindful eating
  • Mindful eating is rapidly becoming a leading method of treating unhealthy eating behaviours

Have you tried mindful eating before or was the raisin challenge above your first introduction into it? Comment below on your experience and thoughts.

Sources

Bjarnadottir, A., 2019. Mindful Eating 101 — A Beginner’S Guide. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mindful-eating-guide [Accessed 27 March 2020].

Dalen, J., Smith, B., Shelley, B., Sloan, A., Leahigh, L. and Begay, D., 2010. Pilot study: Mindful Eating and Living (MEAL): Weight, eating behavior, and psychological outcomes associated with a mindfulness-based intervention for people with obesity. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 18(6), pp.260-264.

Nelson, J., 2017. Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat. Diabetes Spectrum, 30(3), pp.171-174.

Pike, A., 2019. The Science Behind Mindful Eating — IFIC Foundation. [online] IFIC Foundation. Available at: https://foodinsight.org/the-science-behind-mindful-eating/ [Accessed 27 March 2020].

Smith, L., 2017. Mindful Eating Exercise. [online] Dukeintegrativemedicine.org. Available at: https://www.dukeintegrativemedicine.org/dukeimprogramsblog/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2017/08/Mindful-Eating-Transcript.pdf [Accessed 27 March 2020].

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10 Comments

  • Nancy Hamar · 27/03/2020 at 7:17 PM

    Great article Sharon – your mindful eating test with the raisins was a good reminder for me. I am always eating on the go, at my computer.

    I was very successful when I had joined Weight Watchers many years ago, and this was the subject of many meetings. I fully believe I need to slow down, enjoy, and savor my food.

    I had forgotten the other thought you talk about, “Recognize what the food is and think about any experiences or memories you have had with the food.” This also was a belief of WW. I stopped and thought about the raisin and the memories of eating them. It did bring back sweet memories of my daughter’s childhood and mine.

    The point about repetition is key, you don’t change a habit in one try. Some people say it has to be repeated daily for 30 days, or longer. The change needs to be repeated until you don’t think about it, and just do it, this is my rule of thumb.

    Thank you very much for reminding me of small changes to make in my daily life that will reap big rewards.

    Keep Well, you and your family,
    Nancy Hamar

      Sharon · 27/03/2020 at 9:19 PM

      Hi Nancy,

      I’m delighted to hear you were inspired by the exericse. I think everyone is guilty of being absent-minded when eating, be it in front of a computer, phone or a TV.

      I completely agree with the repetition, that applies any meditation/mindfulness in my opinion.

      I’m glad the post served as a reminder, and I hope it encourages you to engage in more mindful eating practices.

      Best wishes,
      Sharon

    Lisa · 27/03/2020 at 7:34 PM

    Hi Sharon,

    Thanks for this detailed article. I think I have inadvertantly achieved mindful eating when I’m really busy at work by using Huel as a meal replacement solution. When I replace two meals with Huel (unflavoured and unsweetened version for me), I find that my senses are hightened for the meals that I do not replace.

    Its really nice to have an explaination as to why I enjoy the textures, tastes and smells of foods so much when I’ve been replacing meals with Huel. Having this understanding makes it much easier for me to stop my emotional eating, as I completely understand the feelings that I need to be creating when I mindfully eat my meals.

    Is there a particular meal (other than raisins) that you would recommend trying for a first actively mindful meal?

    Thanks in advance,
    Lisa

      Sharon · 27/03/2020 at 9:25 PM

      Hi Lisa,

      That’s an interesting concept. I wonder do you achieve greater enjoyment from your other meals then since you’re only relying on meal replacements.

      The most common food used is obviously a raisin, but I would recommend choosing a food that you enjoy and engages positive memories for you. I know raisins aren’t everyones favourite food. Let me know your experiences if you do try the exercise!

      Sharon

    Judith · 27/03/2020 at 9:20 PM

    Lots of good information here with many tools to assist the goal of mindful eating. Bottom line: we need to slow down, assess and appreciate the fuel we put into our body. We only have one body and a healthy diet is essential if we want to safeguard our health longterm. We need to look after what we have been given…

      Sharon · 27/03/2020 at 9:30 PM

      Hello there,

      Absolutely, and we need to disengage from our screens while we nourish our body and our minds with food. It’s no wonder people overeat when they don’t even focus on the food they eat, and instead wolf it down as if a famine is imminent.

      Sharon

    Jeff · 28/03/2020 at 12:38 PM

    I know too well about emotional eating from my past, you see I have suffered from autoimmune diseases most of my life and when I had flare-ups I could not get enough to eat. Of course, this was a very unhealthy coping skill, but it just seemed to become natural for me to do without thinking, but I have learned healthy coping skills and I now am managing my eating and weight effectively

    Jeff

      Sharon · 28/03/2020 at 8:20 PM

      Hi Jeff,

      I’m sorry to hear that, autoimmune diseases can be very difficult on the body so it’s completely understandable if you seek comfort in food. Also, when people don’t realise there are options for controlling food cravings, people continue on the trajectory of indulging them.

      I’m glad to hear you have it better under control now and I hope the autoimmune issues have settled!

      Best wishes,
      Sharon

    Elise Cain · 28/03/2020 at 3:51 PM

    I loved the raisin test! This really works, and all you have to do is just open your mind a little. This is an excellent way to get back in touch with reality, especially right now when thing’s can be so scary. This helped me to come to a sense of peace in the moment. Thank you!

      Sharon · 28/03/2020 at 8:29 PM

      Hello there,

      I’m delighted that you enjoyed the raising challenge. It sure does speak wonders, as they say, actions speak louder than words and that activity certainly demonstrates how effective mindful eating can be! It’s great that this offered you some comfort, I hope that you keep it up.

      Sharon

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