Mindful eating is a practice, not a diet. It doesn't offer recipes, menu plans, or lists of allowed and restricted foods. Instead, it asks you to use all your senses, take breaths between bites, and bring more awareness to the process of eating.
The Center for Mindful Eating (TCME) defines mindful eating as becoming "aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom." Mindful eating uses all your senses to choose and eat food that is satisfying to you and nourishing to your body; acknowledges your responses to food (likes, dislikes, or neutral) without judgement; and uses physical cues to guide your decision to begin and end eating.
While anecdotal evidence for the success of mindful eating is readily available, formal research is still in the early phases. But studies to date indicate promising results for two groups—diabetics and binge eaters.
A Non-Diet for Diabetes
Research shows mindful eating can help people with type 2 diabetes better manage their weight and blood sugar levels.
A 2012 Ohio State University study compared the effectiveness of a traditional diabetes self-management diet program with a meditation and mindfulness eating approach. The programs were equally effective.
Participants in both groups lost the same amount of weight and lowered their long-term blood sugar levels after three months.
“We studied two very different approaches, and we found they both worked,” said Carla Miller, associate professor of human nutrition at Ohio State and lead author of the study. “This means people with diabetes have choices when it comes to eating a healthy diet.”
The mindful eating group did not receive specific nutrition training, but instead were instructed in how to tune into their bodies before meals and assess their hunger level. They were also encouraged to stop eating when they felt full. This group also participated in guided meditation sessions that helped them deal with their emotions around food.
Participants were encouraged to cultivate "inner wisdom" as they developed an awareness of eating as well as "outer wisdom" to help them make nutritionally appropriate choices.
Help for Binge Eaters, Too
Mindful eating can also help binge eaters and those with other eating disorders.
Jean L. Kristeller, a clinical psychologist and advisor to TCME, founded the MB-EAT program, a Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training that integrates meditation and mindfulness techniques to help people with eating disorders and obesity.
“A big question that almost all of us face is how we can bring joy and balance back into our relationship with food and eating.” Kristeller wrote. “We are bombarded with messages to eat more—yet we struggle with weight. We go on 'automatic'—eating when food is available rather than when we are hungry, and cleaning our plates when we are already full.”
One study of binge eaters found that MB-EAT helped participants reduce binge-eating episodes from four per week to about one and a half. Another National Institutes of Health-funded study found MB-EAT techniques helped reduce binge-eating episodes and improved depression.
Are you ready to try mindful eating? Please remember to consult your doctor when considering this or any new way of eating or exercising.
© 2015 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies