Picture this: you are sitting on a beach, starring out as the sunshine glistens off the rolling waves on their way to meet the shore. You reach for your bowl of fruit and slowly pull out a strawberry, with your eyes still fixed on the horizon. You feel the course texture of the skin as you bite down into an explosion of flavor that fills your pallet.  You notice, maybe for the first time ever, the small seeds that fill your mouth as the juices from the fruit swirl around your tongue.  All of this takes only seconds, but the moment seems to last longer, as you glance down at the strawberry and realize you still have another bite left.

In our ridiculously fast-paced lives we rarely get this opportunity. In fact, many of us grab a quick bite on the road, at our desk, in front of the TV or as we frantically respond to something on our phones. Not because we think those are necessarily good ideas, but because it is how we have programmed ourselves to eat.

Maybe this has something to do with the fact that 70 percent of US adults are considered overweight or obese according to the CDC.  What if we put an effort toward reprogramming this reality, and considered the concept of mindful eating – something that is significantly more like the picture I created in your mind with the strawberry story, and less like the quick bite on the run.

Interestingly, mindful eating has been a part of a growing amount of interest in the clinical research community, specifically regarding its promising results for weight management, eating disorder treatment and prevention of metabolic syndrome associated with overweight individuals and obesity.

So, realizing we all lead busy lives and likely cannot take a trip to the beach every day to calm our eating habits, let’s consider the premise of mindful eating, and how we can apply it to our lives.

What is Mindful Eating?

The term “mindfulness” has roots dating back thousands of years in the Buddhist, Hundi, Jewish, Christian and Islamic religious sectors, primarily located in the Eastern Hemisphere. Mindfulness encourages an individual to be more aware of current thoughts, surroundings, emotions and body sensations without judgement to promote open-heartedness for the self and others. As the concept of mindfulness moved West, it became detached from its original roots and was encouraged to be practiced even without a religious or spiritual background.

Mindful eating, which is applied to eating scenarios, is a part of mindfulness as a whole. According to this clinical study, mindful eating “includes making conscious food choices, developing awareness of physical vs. psychological hunger and satiety cues, and eating healthfully in response to those cues.”

The Center for Mindful Eating, a well-respected and professional organization dedicated to educating health and clinical professionals on the principles of mindful eating, describes it as:

  • Becoming aware of the positive aspects of food and having the confidence that you are making the right decisions about food.
  • Engaging all senses to enjoy food and to know it is nourishing your body.
  • Acknowledging and respecting personal responses to food.
  • Knowing when physical hunger and satiety arise to guide your decisions about food.

The Benefits of Mindful Eating: Current Research

As I mentioned before, mindful eating and its possible beneficial effects on weight loss and associated diseases has become a growing topic of interest in the clinical research community.

Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic Syndrome includes a cluster of risk factors, like high-fasting blood sugar levels, abdominal fat and high blood pressure, which increase your risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus and stroke. Mindful eating has shown promise in reducing metabolic syndrome risk factors. Take this study, for example, which examined 194 adults with obesity in a mindfulness training to a diet and exercise program. This 2016 study found that mindfulness could promote improvement in metabolic risk factors, but more research needs to be done.

A review study published in Obesity Reviews, found that 86 percent of the research reviewed found improvements with eating behaviors in those with obesity. The eating behaviors that were most impacted included binge eating behavior, emotional eating and external/cued eating. Researchers have found that those who are more mindful in their everyday lives were less likely to be overweight or obese.

Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus

Research has found that Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT), in conjunction with Diabetes self-management education (DSME), can be more effective with weight loss and hemoglobin A1c levels in participants with Type 2 diabetes mellitus. Weight loss was a direct result of a reduction in total daily calorie and simple carbohydrate intake.

Digestive Health

According to Harvard Health Publishing, there is reason to believe that eating while we are distracted (is interpreted by our bodies as stress) and not paying attention to the present moment may initiate our “fight or flight” response, slowing down digestion and nutrient absorption. When our “fight or flight” response is recruited, many things happen in our bodies. For example, under stress, digestion is suppressed, glucose is released into the blood to be used, muscle breaks down, blood pressure rises, inflammatory mediators are awakened and kidney function may be suppressed. Mindful eating is a way to decrease distraction and stimuli overload to allow your body to truly focus on eating and digesting.

Eating Disorders

Most of the research involving mindful eating and eating disorder is conducted specifically around binge eating disorder. This clinical study found that Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT) reduced participants’ bingeing episodes and improved self-control with eating. Research has also identified that MB-EAT, in conjunction with psychoeducational/cognitive-behavioral intervention (PECB), showed improvement in binge eating disorder behavior after one and four months post-MB-EAT intervention. Fascinatingly, 95 percent of participants who met the criteria for binge eating disorder no longer qualified to be diagnosed with binge eating disorder after four months of MB-EAT.

So how can we learn from this and apply mindful eating?

There’s much more to mindful eating than sitting at the dinner table rather than in front of the computer – although that is a great start. It is necessary to create an environment conducive to reducing stimuli. In a world full of distractions that is not so easy, but here are some ideas your STYR coaches recommend:

  • Begin with a mindful bite. Take a deep breath and a moment to completely focus on the bite you are tasting and chewing. Pay attention to all aspects of the food – the taste, the smell, the texture, the appearance and the temperature.
  • Remove the clutter. Mail, food, cups, plates and homework may fill your eating area, but it’s time to make a change. Take two minutes to clean up this “stuff” before you sit down to eat—it will clam your senses and let you enjoy the moment.
  • Decorate your table. Maybe that is putting out some flowers, a pitcher of water with sweat beads rolling off the side or a simple napkin folded properly next to your cutlery. These little decorations enable you to focus on something besides getting that first bite in your mouth.
  • Turn off the media. How often do you sit down to eat, turn on NetFlix and start streaming your latest binge? You are not alone.  But consider how this pulls you away from the meal you are supposed to be enjoying.  Maybe it is time to enjoy your next meal with a friend or loved one, and mix in a little conversation between your bites.
  • Stop working. We all do it. Breakfast, lunch and dinner may feature our computer, tablet or smart phone as our companion. Fighting deadlines, answering questions or just flat out working because it feels like the right thing to do.  Pick at least one meal a day to put the work to the side and enjoy the solitude of not answering emails.
  • Slow down. When was the last time you really tasted your food? Not just the spices or sweetness, but the actual flavors as they cascade around your mouth.  If you slow down and enjoy the bite, you will notice so many special things about the meal, and enjoy the eating experience.
  • Pay attention to portion sizes. Serving yourself food is a part of the mindful eating process. Be an advocate for your success and try to reduce your portion sizes, and then get more if you are still hungry. Some recommend reducing the size of your plate, but you do not have to do this to reduce your portion sizes.
  • Get rid of food judgements and accept neutrality. If you judge your food choices, you may feel guilty for the entire meal, making it difficult to be mindful. Try to make healthy choices the majority of the time, but understand that it’s okay to have that decadent brownie sometimes.
  • Recognize hunger vs. cravings. It can be difficult to differentiate between true hunger and a psychologically-induced craving, especially when we are distracted and stressed. However, you can teach yourself how to understand the different signs of each.

 

Hunger Craving
Physical signs (fatigue, stomach growling)

 

Absence of physical signs
Any food sounds good in the moment

 

Distraction causes the thought of food to go away
The desire for food gradually intensifies and does not go away until you eat

 

You have something specific in mind to eat that’ll satisfy the craving with emotional attachment
Important that you do not ignore We can learn and accept cravings, rather than feeling blindsided by them


The Steps of Mindful Eating

Try these steps at your next meal.

  1. Arrive at your meal. This step entails becoming attentive to all foods that have entered your space. To do this, it may be helpful to quietly name the foods you see in your space. Further, think about the effort that it took to get that food to you. This step may seem simple, but our current abundant food supply encourages lack of awareness when food surrounds us.
  2. Awaken to your meal. Think of “waking up” to all aspects of the food that is in front of you, observing the flavor, texture, shape, scent, color, temperature and the resources it took to make the food.
  3. Tune in to your body during your meal. Try to notice your emotions and how your body feels while you eat. It is also important to accept food neutrality and eliminate judgements around food choices.
  4. Think about the service of your meal. Consider all service activities that went into your meal, such as loading the dishwasher, setting the table, and cleaning.

Mindful eating can be an effective addition to a plan involving wholesome nutrition and moderate exercise to improve your overall health status, and possibly reduce your risk of obesity and associated illnesses.

Oh yeah, and make a trip to the beach sometime soon, and bring that bowl of fruit J.

If you are interested to hear more and receive personalized nutrition, check out STYR’s app, fitness tracker and suite of connected smart devices. Through the platform, you can track and log activity, food, hydration, sleep, nutrition, mood and more to personalize your nutrition needs based on data, science and access to registered dietitians, nutritionists and personal trainers.

STYR Labs App: Increase your Weight Management IQ with a free PHYSQ smart scale by upgrading to STYR Plus!

If you are interested to hear more and receive personalized nutrition, check out STYR’s app, fitness tracker and suite of connected smart devices. Through the platform, you can track and log activity, food, hydration, sleep, nutrition, mood and more to personalize your nutrition needs based on data, science and access to registered dietitians, nutritionists and personal trainers.

Please note that this information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. We insist that you always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical/health condition or treatment and before initiating a new health care regime. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the STYR app or on www.MyNutritioniQ.com.

Share this...
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponShare on Tumblr