Food is something that provides us with nutrients for survival. It gives us energy for activity, growth, and other bodily functions. Good nutrition in the proper amount is important for our overall physical health and well-being. Food is supposed to be enjoyed as it adds years to life. But our perception to food has been adulterated by media advertising, serving portions, and a lot of money has been spent for marketing to affect our food consumption. If we are not careful, we will fall for the trap and suffer health consequences. When food is eaten too much due to environmental factors and external cues, the food that is supposed to nourish us may do harm and cause ill effects to our health. In this fast-paced life, there has been a lot of distractions, that may prevent us from eating what is good for us. Our behavior to food and why we eat has changed, and to some who is trying to lose some weight, food may be viewed as an enemy. Food restrictions may be part of the weight loss plan, and we may have that guilt whenever we try to eat, leaving such as a great emotional burden. The vicious cycle in our love and hate relationship with food can give us negative psychological impact that will hinder our goals for weight loss and health.
Obesity has reached an epidemic in this time of urbanization and globalization. In 2016, about 13% of the world’s adult population are obese and that translates to 650M people and 39% are overweight, according to WHO. Its prevalence has nearly tripled between 1975 and 2016. Obesity is linked to chronic cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer and has decreased life expectancy. A lot of weight loss interventions have been made but most do not have successful long-term outcomes. Weights are often regained within a year and 80% of those who lost weight would return to their original weight or would otherwise gain more within three to five years. (O’ Reilly, 2014). Weight loss programs usually focus on the foods to eat and what not to eat but not much focus is given to the behavior surrounding the reasons why we tend to overeat. Factors such as “binge-eating, emotional eating, external eating and eating in response to food cravings needs to be addressed and should be considered in weight loss programs. These eating behaviors are not usually addressed, and this may contribute to the lack of long-term intervention success for weight loss (O’ Reilly, 2014). Overeating is the most common unintentional health harming behavior not only in western cultures but has been seen in Asian countries like the Philippines. Eating is influenced biologically through internal cues such as hunger and satiety, psychologically depending on one’s mood and one’s environment and culturally by how societal factors influenced and shaped our dietary patterns. “Eating always entails some level of conscious decisions, yet most of them are highly conditioned, if not automatic, and are sensitive to emotional states.” (Kristeller, 2014)
Mindfulness and Mindful Eating
Mindfulness, a “non-judgmental attention and awareness in the present moment” (Brown and Ryan, 2003) and conscious awareness of whatever the focus might be, can affect our eating behaviors and patterns and may influence the food choices that we make each meal. The term was first coined by Jon Kabat-Zin as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. Mindfulness is being in the present, getting fully engaged with whatever we are doing in the moment without distraction or judgement while we are aware of our thoughts and feelings. We can train ourselves to live in this moment to moment experience by allowing us to build the skills and apply it to our daily lives. In training ourselves to be mindful in the present, we take deep breaths while acknowledging our thoughts and feelings, accepting them for what they are which is particularly helpful if we face challenging circumstances or difficult situations. Mindfulness is a way of living, we are aware of our thoughts and emotions in a certain situation and because of that we have more choices in how to handle them and a better chance that we may become aware of the choices that we are going to make in that particular moment. In mindfulness, we do not need to make perfect choices, rather we will allow ourselves to be more aware in how we want to respond and act towards it.
Practicing mindfulness allows our brain to build new pathways to the parts of the brain responsible for traits like focus and decision-making. Mindfulness improves well-being, physically, emotionally, and mentally, thus may help us curb with our negativity with our past experiences and is helpful in dealing with individuals who have problems that is linked to eating behaviors. Mindful eating has been a subject of interest in these past few years after seeing the beneficial of mindfulness practice. Mindful eating means paying attention to our food with purpose, moment by moment, without judgment that focuses on individual’s sensual awareness of the food and their experience with food with the intention to help individuals savor the moment and the food and encourage their full presence for the eating experience. Mindful eating is an emerging approach to address unhealthy eating behaviors, healthy weight regulation and weight loss. Mindful eating includes watching what you eat, not eating while watching TV, enough serving portions, chewing your food like 32 times, sitting down while eating and savoring the food that we are partaking. This is not a guideline to be followed, but an idea for people to have their own experience and to be present while having them. When we practice mindfulness, first, we need patience to eat mindfully, chewing a few more times before swallowing it for us to dramatically experience the flavor of the food, secondly, have a nonjudging attitude towards our food, our awareness of our judgment is one critical element of mindfulness. Thirdly, we should approach our experience to eating with a beginner’s mind, like seeing the food for the first time, smelling it, feeling it, holding it and listening to it allowing us to experience them anew and be open to whatever feelings we will have to the food. With the full experience that we have with the food and fully accepting it as it is, we develop trust in ourselves with our responses to the different kinds of food and trust our decisions when to stop eating rather than restricting. Through mindful eating, we don’t restrict ourselves to the food we want to eat, but we are allowed to be in the moment as we fully appreciate the experience, no effort required to make something happen, whatever happens will happen, thus it is non striving. We learn to accept the taste of the food and whatever sensations may come up while eating. Lastly, mindful eating means letting go of past experiences or resentment we harbor when made to eat with foods that we despise sometime in our lives.
In a study by Carla Miller and Hallett in 1999, they 18 sampled overweight women with binge-eating disorders that underwent Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT) to promote mindful eating. This intervention addressed hunger and satiety cues along with stress eating in response to those cues instead of eating in response to automatic patterns. Participants underwent meditation practices practically eating-related guided meditation to help one focus on sensations, thoughts, and emotions related to hunger, satiety and eating triggers. Participants did few deep breaths to be in tune with the present moment to be aware of sensations in the body, including hunger. This process enabled the participants to be aware of the food they want to eat and how much they plan to eat based on their hunger cues. MB-EAT emphasizes on inner wisdom that is the mindful awareness of the inner experience while eating and towards eating rather than outer wisdom (knowledge of nutrition, etc.…). Its core component is a “focus on the processes involved in sensory-specific satiety, in which taste buds decrease their sensitivity to food after a relatively small amount of food.” After a 3-week follow-up it showed significant changes in frequency to binge episodes, eating control, hunger awareness, satiety awareness, cognitive restrain eating. There was also a significant reduction in binge eating episodes and the quantity of food consumed noted after 1-month follow-up. Significantly, there was a reduction in weight, HbA1c, energy intake, glycemic index, and glycemic load among diabetics after a 3-month follow-up. In a study by Kristeller JL, 2003; Kristeller & Wolever, 2011) a 9-week MB-EAT program has been found to reduce compulsive overeating among obese subjects that resulted to a 7-pound loss.
Not only is mindfulness eating having such an impact among adult diabetics and obese individuals, promising results have also been seen among overweight and obese pregnant women. Lifestyle interventions targeting healthy weight gain in overweight and obese pregnant women have not been remarkably successful in the past that is why mindfulness eating was utilized (Apolzan JW, 2016). The study showed that there were less food cravings and healthier eating patterns with a decrease gestational weight gain after mindful eating intervention (Apolzan JW, Myers CA., Cowley, AD, Hsia DS, et. al). This intervention can be immensely helpful for overweight and obese pregnant women to have a healthy pregnancy thus reducing pregnancy complications.
Employing eating patterns and behavior and intervening in this level along with a good whole food, plant-based diet can be an effectual long-term solution in curbing the obesity pandemic that is lurking around. Mindfulness eating helps us become aware of our hunger cues while letting us be aware of what we ought to eat and not to eat. As we practice mindful eating, we become fully aware of the sensation of the food inside our mouth, taking it slowly. We tend to choose healthier food choices and enjoy it while it gives the necessary nutrients that our body needs. We can then be aware that it is time for us to stop eating and help us to be contended and be happy with what we eat, thus decreasing the amount of food that we eat, thus will help us in losing our unwanted weight.
With mindfulness and mindful eating, we can make healthier choices, and can extended to the food selections that we have. We can gain control with our health and maintain balance in our lives not just physically, but also emotionally, socially, and mentally. Food is to be enjoyed, in moderation and be experienced with great joy with other people while it nourishes our mind, body and soul.
The ABC of Mindfulness
APPRECIATE Pay attention in each present moment and appreciate it, be thankful for it. Gratefulness stretches and increased the heart and increases awareness of the present moment. BE STILL we are human beings, not human doings. Practice being at peace within yourself each day, as stillness and silence are life giving! CLEAN HOUSE Clean your mind by removing the static from your life and anything that is not serving either yourself or the other people you know.
Core Attitudes of Mindfulness
A non-judgmental attitude Being an impartial witness to your own experience by developing an awareness of our experience and what is around us. We pay attention in a particular way from a more neutral point of view. Be curious and let the judgments go!
The attitude of patience patience is an act of understanding that things will happen in their own time, even when we don’t see the results right away. It is giving ourselves permission to take the time and space necessary for mindful practices, without attachment to any particular outcome and just wait to see how things will be revealed.
Adopting a beginner’s mind Seeing things as if for the time without any preconceived expectations. When we develop this attitude we eliminate the bias of our previous beliefs of how we see things.
An attitude of trust Trust in your intuition than looking outside of yourself, even if you make some mistakes along the way. Be open and receptive to what you can learn from other sources. But ultimately, the intention is to find your wisdom from within.
The attitude of Non-striving An attitude of being present with intention while letting go of the results. This is the most difficult mindfulness attitude to embrace because almost everything we do, we do with purpose or goal in mind. This is not the same as “no effort” though.
Unconditional Acceptance Acceptance means seeing things as they actually are in the present moment. It is simply the willingness to see things as they are right now.
Whatever your present, emotional or spiritual state, of you do not want to remain stuck in a frustrating vicious cycle of wanting things to be different, you might realize that this is the only time you can love and accept yourself.
Faith and Letting Go As we develop awareness in our experience, feelings, thoughts, there are unpleasant things that we may try to get rid of. We just observe and let go, or notice, and let things be. Letting go just mean releasing the contraction around the thing and allowing it to be. No force required. Just let go. Make a fist. Squeeze it tight. Now let go.
MINDFUL EATING EXERCISE This is an experience of mindful eating with Linda Smith from Duke Integrative Medicine. You can prepare for this exercise by choosing a special food to experience it with. Many people choose a raisin or a piece of chocolate or something that is delightful for you.
First take the food and hold it between your pointer finger and thumb. Bring your attention to it, if it’s a raisin, as if it were a novel item, imagining that you have never seen one before in your life.
Take the time to observe the raisin carefully - really see it - gaze at it with care and full attention. Let your eyes explore every part of it, noticing its shape, colors, and surfaces. Examine its grooves, where the light shines and shadows.
Rotate and move the raisin between your fingers, continuing to explore its texture. Apply a small bit of pressure to notice whether it is soft or hard. You might close your eyes if that helps you to focus and enhance your sense of touch.
Recognizing this is a raisin, note any thoughts you might have about raisins - any memories about them or feelings of liking or disliking them.
Hold the raisin under your nose, and inhale naturally. With each in-breath, notice any aroma or smell that arises. Bring awareness also to any effect in your mouth or stomach.
Now bring the raisin slowly up to your mouth, noticing how your hand and arm know exactly how and where to position it. Being aware if you are salivating as the mind and body anticipate eating.
Place the raisin gently into your mouth, without yet chewing. Hold the raisin in your mouth for at least 10 seconds, exploring it with your tongue, feeling the sensations of having it there. Notice this pause and how it feels to take some time before eating the raisin.
When you are ready, prepare to chew the raisin. Take one or two bites into it and notice what happens, bringing your full attention to its taste and texture as you continue chewing.
Take time to chew without swallowing, noticing the taste and texture of the raisin in your mouth and how it may change over time.
When you feel ready to swallow the raisin, bring awareness to the sensation so that even this is experienced consciously.
Lastly, notice what is left of the raisin as you swallow and it travels down to your stomach. Notice how your body as a whole is feeling after completing this exercise.
Reflections Part I
Now take a few moments to write down your reflections on the following questions: 1. How was this experience the same or different from how you normally eat? 2. What, if anything, surprised you about the experience? 3. What did you notice with the raisin (or whatever food you chose) in terms of sight, touch, sound, smell, and taste? 4. What thoughts or memories popped up while doing this exercise? 5. What is one tip for yourself that you are going to take from this experience to apply to your eating habits in the future?
Many people choose to use a special dish or plate and to find one meal that they can eat slowly and consciously. Taking a bite, putting the fork or spoon down for a moment, fully enjoying the sensation of the food as it is chewed and swallowed. And then taking another bite to have the full sensory experience and enjoyment of the food that we eat.
Reflections Part 2
How many of these attitudes can you identify in your own life (currently)?
How many of these attitudes would you like to improve in?
What is one change of attitude can you make today that might benefit yourself and other people in countless different ways?
Lancha Jr. AH., Sforzo, GA., Pereira-Lancha, LO. Improving Nutritional Habits with No Diet Prescription: Details of a Nutritional Coaching Process. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2018. 12: 160-165.
Sorensen, MD., Arlinghaus, KR., Ledoux, TA., Johnston, CA. Integrating Mindfulness into Eating Behaviors. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2019: 537-539. DOI: 10.1177/1559827619867626.
Apolzan JW., Myers, CA., Cowley AD., Brady H., Hsia, DS., et al. Examination of the reliability and validity of the Mindful Eating Questionnaire in pregnant women. Appetite. May 1, 2016; 100: 142-151. Doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2016.02.025.