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Mindful Eating

By Matt O'Neill, MSc(Nut&Diet), APD

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Mindful eating is a simple and powerful way to eat, which can help you achieve more than results for your waistline. You'll also discover a more satisfying and healthy relationship with food.

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating involves choosing to eat food that both pleases and nourishes your body by using all your senses to explore, savour and taste the food.
By also paying close attention to body's internal hunger-fullness cues and your environment, mindful eating elevates your awareness of eating triggers, so you can break bad habits and feel more in control of your food choices.

Mindless eating

Professor Brian Wansick, author of “Mindless Eating” says most of us eat too much food or the wrong foods, simply because we eat `mindlessly' without thinking enough about what's going into our mouths.

Mindless eating includes:

  • Eating at certain times rather than when you are genuinely hungry.

  • Eating because food is there or someone has offered you a snack.

  • Eating when distracted, most commonly in front of the TV.

  • Eating too fast without even tasting the food.

  • Eating to finish your plate or get value for money at a restaurant.

  • Eating in response to emotional triggers including stress, anxiety, boredom, sadness or happiness.
All these negative behaviours are often learnt from a young age and can now be re-programmed with a mindful eating approach.

Tangible benefits of mindful eating

Mindful eating can help you resist desires to eat when you don't need to and stop eating when you are satisfied. The bottom line is that you can naturally eat less and avoid blow-outs from your nutrition plan.

Mindful eating can really help you enjoy your food and feel nourished rather than punished.

Mindful eating will help you:

  • Eliminate trips to the vending machine or service station for snacks.

  • Reduce snacking just before dinner and wait for your meal.

  • Stop eating when you are satisfied rather than clean your plate.

  • Say no to snack offers from family.

  • Reduce the times you turn to food to deal with stress and emotions.

  • Enjoy occasional treats without guilt.
Mindfulness changes the way you think. Rather than reacting to food-related thoughts that cause you to overeat (e.g. “I've had so much chocolate, what's the point, I'll just finish the packet), you hear these thoughts and learn to not obey them.

Principles of Mindfulness

This might sound a bit deep, but mindfulness is being aware of what is present for you mentally, emotionally and physically in each moment.

Mindfulness is deliberately paying attention without judgement. It encompasses both internal processes and external environments.

With practice, mindfulness cultivates the possibility of freeing yourself of reactive, habitual patterns of thinking, feeling and acting.

Mindfulness promotes balance, choice, wisdom and acceptance.

Mindfulness in action - “The mindful meal” exercise

Like any new habit, mindful eating takes a little effort at first. But the rewards make it very worthwhile. Here is a step-by-step method for mindful eating, called “The Mindful Meal”.

1. Before eating, ask yourself:
    a.  Am I hungry?
    b.  Am I thirsty?
    c.  If so, what type of food or drink do I want?

2. Set a nice place to eat with food arranged nicely on a plate. Do not eat whilst standing, walking, driving or in front of the TV.

3. Be in the present (take 3 deep breaths) before beginning to eat.

4. Eat slowly, paying attention to the smell, taste, sound, texture and look of the food.

5. Put your utensils or food down between mouthfuls.

6. Every few minutes during your meal, check in with your hunger-fullness signals.

7. Stop eating when you feel satisfied, just before you feel full. Wait 10 to 20 minutes before eating more food if you still feel hungry.

How was the experience ? The first time may feel weird or even confronting, but with practise you may surprise yourself how much you now enjoy food.

The whole aim is to switch off the auto-pilot eating that piles on the calories, be more mindful when you eat and feel more nourished.


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