Mindful Eating

The definition of binge eating is “the consumption of large amounts of food associated with a feeling of loss of control over eating.”  Individuals who binge eat describe the experience as almost dissociative.  They are frantically eating large amounts of food which they are barely tasting.  They feel unable to stop until they are uncomfortably full.

One skill that I teach clients who binge eat and overeat is mindful eating.  Mindfulness is a Buddhist principle that involves being fully aware of what is going on both inside yourself and in your environment at the moment.  Mindfulness is a skill that anyone can develop.

Mindful eating – bringing one’s full attention to the process of eating –includes an appreciation for the source of the food as well as attention to the colors, textures, smells, and tastes.  It involves eliminating distractions such as television and paying closer attention to internal sensations.  By eating more slowly and paying attention to what we are eating, we are more likely to notice satiety earlier and less likely to overeat.  Mindfulness also helps individuals to distinguish between emotional and physical hunger.

Several studies have shown that mindful eating strategies can help with disordered eating and possibly help with weight loss.

A basic mindful eating exercise involves eating a grape with full attention to the process:

First, examine the grape in your hand as if you are a child who has never seen a grape.  Notice the color and texture and how it feels in your hand. 

Then take a moment and think about where the grape came from.  It didn’t just fall from the sky and land in your hand.  From the time it was a tiny grape seed, people were involved in tending to this grape.  There was soil and sun and water that helped the grape grow.  There were farmers who took care of it and eventually picked it.  Then it was packed up and truckers took it to the supermarket.  All of these people involved in this grape also were nourished and cared for by other people.  Be aware of the life energy of all the people who contributed to the life of this grape.  Maybe you have other associations to this grape. 

Now, notice what your mind is thinking… whether it is eager to eat the grape or not.   Slowly put the grape in your mouth and notice how it feels in terms of the shape and texture.  Slowly chew on it and be aware of the sensations in your mouth, how it feels on your tongue and how your tongue moves it around.  Slowly swallow and be aware of how that feels.  Notice how you are feeling and whether you are wanting another one. 

Strategies to learn and practice mindfulness:

  • Turn off the television
  • Set up a relaxing and inviting dining environment with nice plates, flowers, and candles
  • Practice eating one meal per week mindfully
  • Practice eating mindfully and silently for the first 5 minutes of every meal
  • Try eating with your non-dominant hand or with chopsticks
  • Put down your fork and take sips of water between bites
  • Take small bites and try to chew each bite 15 to 30 times before swallowing
  • Set an alarm to go off every 5 minutes during your meal and take a moment of mindfulness whenever you hear the alarm
  • Growing your own vegetables and herbs increases your connection with food

Remember that mindful eating is a skill that takes practice.

To learn more about mindfulness:

Mindful Eating by Jan Chozen Bays, MD (2009)

“Mindful eating as food for thought”, New York Times, February 8, 2012