Mindful Eating 101: A Beginner’s Guide

In honour of #EDAwarenessweek, and in honour of all who are battling with an ED, I decided to write this piece about mindful eating – bringing in mindfulness not only during eating, but also before and afterwards.
What is mindfulness, and what is mindful eating? Why and how can we mindfully eat? How does it relate to distorted eating? Find out the answers to these questions below.

What is mindfulness?

First of all, let me explain what mindfulness exactly is. Mindfulness is about bringing your attention to this moment, and focusing on what is going on in your head (noticing thoughts), body (noticing emotions and feelings) and environment. As we practice awareness, we bring in compassion, non-judgment, and curiosity. We want to come from a place of observing our reality instead of serving it, and stop living on automatic pilot, without any awareness of what is going on.

Now, what is mindful eating all about?

Before I explain it, I’d love if you can take the time to reflect on these questions:
  • What was the last thing you ate today?
  • How did it really taste like?
  • What did it look like?
  • What was the texture like?
  • How long did it take you to eat it?
  • Were was your attention while you were eating it?
  • Were you focus on the food, or watching, reading something else?
  • How did you feel before you ate?
  • How did you feel after you ate?
If I would ask you these questions after you went to a Michelin restaurant, you would probably give me way more details about the food then if I were to ask you about your homemade lunch. That’s the beauty of our senses: we can use them to focus our attention back into this moment. Because that expensive meal was so special, you used all your senses to fully savour the moment. By doing it the other way, by engaging our senses, we can make every moment count.
As you might have noticed, mindful eating is about fully focusing on what you are eating. It is also about removing distractions that might keep you from eating mindfully, such as our scrolling through your phone, reading the newspaper, continuing with any activity such as working or even watching the tv.
However, mindful eating starts before the eating part. It is about noticing when you think about food, whether you are really hungry or an addiction or craving or habit is kicking in, through listening to our bodies and bringing in awareness. Awareness, not judgement – we want to not judge ourselves or judge sensations, thoughts or feelings that may arise. We simply notice that they are there, instead of suppressing them of making ourselves feels worse about it.
When you can bring your kind, gentle, non-judgemental curiosity to this, you can then take action as you please – eat when you are hungry, fulfil the craving, continue the habit, feed the addiction – or not. And that is where the power lays: the moment you create the awareness, you create a space, a space where you have the freedom to choose what you do next.
In a scenario of disordered eating, this becomes very interesting. Because after creating awareness, we can bring in compassion to ourselveshey, it’s okay you are having these thoughts, it’s okay you want to do this. I don’t judge you. You are human. You are doing your best. (space to choose) – so this time, let’s take care and let’s do what it best for the body (however that looks like for you).

Why should I practice mindful eating?

Mindful eating has been proven to reduce binge-eating, eating disorders and illnesses/conditions related to it (obesitas, being overweight, too high calorie intake).
Even if you aren’t struggling with an eating disorder, mindful eating can help you in enjoying your food more, being more present while eating it and savouring it much more than if you were focused on something else and eating without being aware of it.
As we become of our thoughts, and sensations, we have the conscious choice on what to do next – for people with an eating disorder, this can be focusing on the positive and realising that the inner critic voice in your head is not telling the truth and is not who you are, but instead try to bring in some positive self-talk.
When your mind is clouded with negative thoughts about your self-image, body posture or weight, it’s great that you are aware of that, because now you can realise they are just thoughts and you bring in some of your own positive, empowering thoughts, and even do something that is good for you and your body.

How can I practice mindful eating?

When you notice thoughts or sensations that you are getting hungry, or craving a certain type of food, ask yourself: how does my body feel? Am I hungry, or just craving food? (you know when you are hungry when you are open to eating something different than the food you are craving, if you only want 1 type of food it is a craving)
When you are able to check in with your body first – again, with curiosity, non-judgment and compassion – you can give your body what it needs. It is not bad to have a craving, it is not bad to be hungry, we are practising simply noticing it.
Next, when you have brought your awareness to it, and you decided to eat and you have your food in front of you, ask yourself: How does it look like? What is the texture like? What are the colours like? How does it taste like? Take your time with eating, fully savour it, and engage with your 5 senses. What helps is imagining it is a expensive meal in a 5-star restaurant. This automatically allows us to focus on it more, because it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

How does mindfulness even relate to disordered eating?

Our world is full of distractions. Bringing in mindfulness whether you have an ED or not, can make you feel better in your own skin, can help increase self-compassion, non-judgment and can help you get out of your mind and back into this moment, making informed decisions and taking action as you think is best.
Are there any studies or proof that it has a positive impact?
Yes, there are studies conducted that prove that mindfulness has a positive impact on people struggling with an eating disorder. These studies were small-scaled and call for further investigation and more experiments, since the results were promising.

“Another study found that mindfulness-based group treatment may be effective for patients suffering from bulimia nervosa. Participants described their transformation from emotional and behavioural extremes, disembodiment and self-loathing to greater self-awareness, acceptance and compassion, according to this study.”

https://themeadowglade.com/mindfulness-and-eating-disorders/

The present study is an exploratory examination of the efficacy of the application of mindfulness-based interventions to the treatment of eating disorders. It employs a systematic review technique in which terms from the Psychological Index Terms of the American Psychological Association (APA) were chosen and analyzed in conjunction with Boolean operators. Using data obtained by the online consultation of references from 12 different bibliographical databases, 8 studies were included in the systematic review. Each study reported satisfactory results, although trial qualities were variable and sample sizes were small. Nonetheless, the current study found initial evidence supporting the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions to the treatment of eating disorders. The application of mindfulness-based interventions to the treatment of eating disorders remains a promising approach worthy of further research.

The application of mindfulness to eating disorders treatment: a systematic review
Rocío Guardiola Wanden-Berghe 1Javier Sanz-ValeroCarmina Wanden-Berghe

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21181578/
Mindfulness seems to be a good candidate for improving your self-awareness and bringing in more compassion. That makes total sense, since the pillars of mindfulness are awareness, non-judgement, curiosity and compassion.
The fact that is has been scientifically proven and tested on people, is just amazing news – it proof us humans are capable of healing ourselves, not through only medication or other external factors, but from within, form our minds – mindfulness.
Have you tried mindful eating? I challenge you to try it out during your next meal. Notice what difference it makes!