BUPA GLOBAL

Mindful eating

Mindful eating: food for thought

Woman eating a salad

New dieting fads come around so often, listing what you should or shouldn’t eat, that at times it can feel overwhelming. But with a simple set of techniques you can avoid all that by tuning into your mind and your body for long-term change. This is known as ‘mindful eating’.

It’s not hard to see the appeal: obesity rates have nearly doubled since 19802 and many of us need to reduce our food intake. But dieting is not easy, is often unsuccessful, and is sometimes linked with poor body image3. Mindful eating offers a positive alternative.

This approach (also called intuitive eating) draws on mindfulness – a practice that involves developing self-awareness to combat stress, along with other positive effects. The research is still in its early days, but links have been found between mindful eating and less ‘disordered eating’ (such as bingeing), a more positive body image, and greater emotional functioning1.

Think about food more

With mindful eating, rather than dieting, you work on really understanding what you’re eating and why. In this way you make conscious choices, and learn to understand how foods make you feel physically and mentally. You can discover which foods give you pleasure, not only immediately, but also in the long term.

How it works

A major hurdle in maintaining weight is the easy availability of food. If we eat mindlessly – in front of the television, for example – it’s easy to consume large quantities without realising, or without even really enjoying it.

Eating mindfully involves exploring how you feel when you are eating, how you feel afterwards, and considering what you might do differently next time. Over time, the idea is to understand what works for you, so that you can become more aware of what you eat and enjoy your meals more intensely.

Try it for yourself

Next time you eat, slow down and use all your senses to become aware of every detail about the food. Put your cutlery down on your plate between bites, and pause before picking it up for your next mouthful. Focus on the sensations of chewing and swallowing the food, and all the different tastes and textures.

Eating in this way, you might simply enjoy your food more intensely. But you might also notice other things: for instance, that you are full halfway through, or that your meal would be complemented by some salad. Or if you notice that you’re craving dessert afterwards, next time you might choose something more filling.

Tips for eating mindfully

  • Choose your foods by thinking positively about what foods are most nourishing and sustaining, rather than negatively by focusing only on avoiding foods that are less healthy.
  • Slow down so you can appreciate your food.
  • When you feel the urge to eat, ask yourself ‘Am I really hungry, or am I just tired, bored or low?’ You may even just be thirsty. Thinking about these things will help you decide what to eat, and how much.
  • A blindfold taste test can be a fun way for children (and adults!) to explore and try to identify different foods using taste and touch.

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Sources:

1. Obesity factsheet. World Health Organization. (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/, updated Jan 2015) last accessed in June 2016

2. Reflections on body image, National Children's Bureau (http://www.ncb.org.uk/media/861233/appg_body_image_final.pdf), last accessed in June 2016

3. Appetite. 2016 Jan 1;96:454-72. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.10.012. Epub 2015 Oct 22. A systematic review of the psychosocial correlates of intuitive eating among adult women (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26474781), last accessed in June 2016