How many of us eat dinner in front of the nightly news, or lean over the newspaper while we sip our coffee at breakfast? How many of us walk, talk, or drive while eating? The answer is: almost everyone. And when we’re finished eating, all too often, we realize we ate more than we’d planned. Diabetes or no, overeating is not good for blood sugar control or weight management. But how do we make a change—from mindless eating to mindful eating—when our lives are too busy to stop and smell the risotto?
What Is It?
A recent trend in psychology, mindfulness has become the latest “it” phrase in the nutrition world, too. Mindfulness has its roots in Eastern philosophy. Broadly, it is simply adopting greater awareness. In Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes (New Harbinger Publications, 2012), co-author Megrette Fletcher, MEd, RD, CDE (and co-founder of The Center for Mindful Eating), says, “Mindful eating is eating with intention and attention. Intention is to address hunger and cravings, and attention is being aware of how food tastes and our change [in] hunger and fullness.” For some, it might mean a greater awareness of food, and for others, it might be simply slowing down while eating.
Conscious and Conscience
Heather Nielsen, co-founder of Transforming Diabetes (a website that provides diabetes health care services and support), participated in a mindful eating exercise in which she was asked to take a small bite of food (a raisin, piece of fruit, or trail mix), and to employ a variety of senses (taste, smell, hearing) to mindfully notice this food item. “We were encouraged to let it sit in our mouths, move it around with our tongue, noticing texture and taste before biting slowly into it, and continuing to observe what happened at each moment.” Nielsen says this exercise showed her how unconscious she’d been with food. “I realized how diabetes had taken me away from the appreciation of food as food, and led me to see food as carbs or calories.”
Although mindful eating is not a “diet,” studies show that weight loss may be a ripple effect. Jean Kristeller, PhD of Indiana State University has created a program called Mindfulness Based-Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT). The 10-session program has been shown to reduce binge eating and give participants a greater ability to use hunger and satiety cues to self-regulate food choices and eating behavior. Another study at Duke University suggests that mindful eating can prevent weight regain in subjects after 15 months.
Weight management has not been an issue for Nielsen, a busy working mom, but she feels that incorporating mindful eating has helped with her diabetes management and maintaining a healthy weight. “I’m eating more intuitively, less emotionally, and am more likely to take in just what I need.”
Becoming a mindful eater doesn’t mean you have to buy a yoga mat, sit cross-legged, and hum every time you feel hungry. It means simply paying attention to what you put into your mouth.
A Starter Kit
Experts suggest starting gradually with mindful eating, eating one meal per day or week in a slower, more attentive manner. Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Shop strategically. Consider the health value of every item you add to your list and stick to it to avoid impulse buying when you’re shopping
- Don’t skip meals. If you skip meals, you may be so eager to get anything in your stomach that your first priority is filling the void instead of enjoying your food.
- Start with a small portion.Try limiting the size of your plate to nine inches or less to help prevent mindless overeating.
- Appreciate your food. Pause for a minute or two before you begin eating to contemplate everything and everyone it took to bring the meal to your table.
- Bring all your senses to the meal. Be attentive to color, texture, and aroma.
- Take small bites.It’s easier to taste food completely when your mouth isn’t full. Put down your utensil between bites.
- Chew thoroughly. Chew well until you can taste the essence of the food. (You may have to chew each mouthful 20 to 40 times, depending on the food.) You may be surprised at all the flavors that are released.
- Eat slowly. Following the steps above will help you enjoy each meal at a slower, more mindful pace. —Adapted from “8 Steps to Mindful Eating,” Harvard Medical School, Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2016. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/8-steps-to-mindful-eating
- Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes by Michelle May, MD and Megrette Fletcher, MEd, RD, CDE
- Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating and Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food by Susan Albers, PsyD
- Mindful Eating, a Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Jan Chozen Bays, MD
Amy Stockwell Mercer is the author of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Diabetes: Authentic Advice on Everything from Eating to Dating and Motherhood and The Smart Woman’s Guide to Eating Right with Diabetes, What Will Work. For more, visit www.amysmercer.com
Updated by Julia Telfer, MPH, 10/16.