By Dra. Josephine Holgado
Mindful eating is defined as being aware or conscious of what you are eating and utilizing all your senses to appreciate the food that you take in as well as knowing when you are truly hungry and satisfied. In other words, you savor the texture, smell and taste of the food that you eat. You observe and listen to your body whether it is sending signals like a rumbling stomach which means you are hungry or you are already full because your tummy feels like bursting. You become fully present or in the moment as you eat so you turn off the television, sit down and just eat. You also become non-judgmental and instead speak compassionately and think before you speak especially when you are eating.
Carla Miller of the Department of Human Sciences, Human Nutrition of the Ohio State University wrote an article on mindful eating for diabetic patients. She defined and explained mindfulness, mindful meditation and mindful eating. She also discussed why mindful eating may be beneficial in diabetes management as well as gave suggestions for incorporating mindful practice into diabetes self management education (DSME).
Mindfulness is a state of awareness or consciousness wherein one purposely pays attention to the present moment without judgment about the events that occur moment by moment. It has two primary components, namely self-regulation of attention and orientation to experience. The first component requires sustained attention on a focal point, attention switching and inhibition of elaborate processing. Whereas the second component entails curiosity, openness and acceptance. Every thought, feeling, or sensation that emerges is acknowledged and accepted as it is. This skill can be developed with practice.
Mindful meditation is an exercise that does not suppress thoughts and feelings nor does it produce a state of relaxation. It involves the process of observation using your senses like sight, touch, taste and smell. A meditation exercise that is commonly used and specific to food consumption is to eat a single raisin mindfully. Mindful eating is being conscious or aware of what you are eating so that you take your cues when you are hungry or satisfied as opposed to automatic eating which is based on emotions, impulsiveness and habits. This may be beneficial in diabetes self-management because it can stop automatic and inattentive response to external food cues and emotional triggers that bring about a response based on habits and unnecessary food consumption which usually happens among diabetic patients.
One intervention designed to promote mindful eating is Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT). This was originally intended for those with binge eating disorder (BED) characterized by frequent eating of large quantities of food, followed by feelings of lack of control, distress and guilt. It was also found to be effective for minimizing weight gain and promoting weight loss.
Here are some of the possible applications of mindful eating according to Miller::
(1) find areas in which you could start a mindful eating approach to food consumption like during dinner at home,
(2) set a time and place during the day to practice 10-20 minutes of sitting meditation and gradually increase the time to focus on the breath and when your attention wanders, bring it back to the breath,
(3) practice doing mini meditations before and during meals and snacks where you focus on the breath and become aware of bodily sensations of hunger and satiety,
(4) be aware of eating triggers and ask yourself: “Am I truly hungry or do I want to eat for another reason?”,
(5) be aware of how hunger changes during a meal by noticing the sensation from hunger before the meals and the sensations that occur throughout the meal,
(6) identify when to stop eating by paying attention to the taste of your favorite food so that you notice when the flavor and enjoyment of the taste fades,
(7) try eating other favorite foods mindfully by being aware of the initial flavor, sensations during each bite and when the initial burst of flavor fades, and
(8) go to a restaurant to practice mindful eating by choosing what to order, practice mini meditation, find out your level of hunger, know how much to eat once the meal arrives based on satiety and enjoyment of the food and regularly check your hunger and fullness as the meal progresses.
According to the author, mindfulness does not happen immediately but is developed over time and with regular practice. You can start with the raisin mindful eating exercise as your first step to eating mindfully and not mindlessly. What you focus on grows. Your mind has the ability to control your actions if you become conscious of what you’re doing at the present moment. You increase the level of your awareness especially with regards to eating the right food at the right amount and at the right pace. You savor every bite as you activate your senses and dictate how much to eat and when to stop.
You listen to your body and value it instead of stuffing it with food that you don’t really need for optimal health. In the process of self-regulation, you allow your body to receive what is only due and disregard the extras so you will not gain weight but instead lose unwanted fats and calories.