Mindful Eating Tips for a New Year

With each new year comes the promise of new beginnings. The one fallback many will face is the idea of making New Year’s resolutions. It is a unique challenge for those undergoing binge eating treatment or any other eating disorder treatment program. It is essential these individuals focus on creating positive and mindful goals in order to stay on the right track, and focus on recovery.

As recovery expert and founder of Monte Nido Carolyn Costin says, “One way to think about the process is to remind yourself you are working toward something …”

This is true in binge eating disorder recovery just as it is when considering goals for the new year. A practical option that supports binge eating disorder treatment is mindful eating. It is a concept often misunderstood, but one that allows for the exploration and enjoyment of eating with a more intuitive understanding of hunger cues. Consider some mindful eating tips for this New Year.

What Is Mindful Eating?

Think of mindful eating as a life strategy that can support an individual on the path to binge eating disorder recovery. The premise is built around the idea of mindfulness, a tool used in stress management, disease control, mental health therapy and binge eating disorder treatment. There is even some evidence teaching mindfulness to elementary school children can improve executive functioning.

Mindfulness is the process of paying attention to what is happening at the moment without external or internal distractions. The concept of mindfulness got its start with the practice of Buddhism. Sati, a word often seen in Buddhist teachings, literally means mindfulness or awareness.

Mindfulness can be described as focusing on what one is doing as it happens to stay in the moment. Mindful eating is a variation of mindfulness. It means applying mindfulness to eating to detect cues regarding hunger, fullness and taste satiety. In other words, remaining in the moment while eating by removing distractions. Focusing on the senses during a meal allows an individual to listen to his or her body and let it guide them.

Why Mindful Eating Matters

The fact is Americans have become accustomed to mindless eating. Their plate is often empty before their mind even registers there was food there. Mindless eating goes beyond just how much time it takes to eat. It also means:

  • Eating until overly full
  • Grazing on food without tasting it
  • Paying little attention to the foods consumed
  • Not remembering anything about a meal, such as how the food tasted or smelled

The Science Behind Hunger and Satiety

Mindful eating takes two essential functions and puts them to work: hunger and satiety. The human body comes with an autonomic mechanism to ensure a person is adequately nourished using an essential gland. Studies indicate that the ventro medial hypothalamus and the lateral hypothalamus in the brain work together to control the urge to eat.

  • The lateral hypothalamus is the hunger center. When a switch turns on, a person feels hungry and looks for food.
  • When the ventro medial hypothalamus activates of the feeling of satiety or satisfaction with a meal it signals a sense of fullness.

You may say mindful eating “feeds” this part of the brain. By staying in the moment while eating individuals can use all their senses to register and enjoy each bite, making the food more satisfying.

The Benefits of Mindful Eating

One of the challenges that come with learning mindful eating techniques is understanding the effect of the practice. It feels awkward at first but knowing the benefits is a stepping stone to mastering it.
Some benefits seen from this practice include:

  • Stress relief
  • Satisfaction with eating
  • Motivation
  • Emotion management
  • Positive body awareness
  • Elimination of negative food-related thoughts
  • Removal of distractions and the zoned-out feeling that some people feel when eating
  • Learning to eat when hungry and stop when satisfied

Mindful eating changes the way people think when they sit down for a meal, so they stop when they reach the point of satiety. It also improves digestion because the body relaxes enough for the process to work correctly and without distraction.

Dietitians and nutrition professionals may use the term “rest and digest” when discussing binge eating treatment. When under stress, the body releases hormones that trigger the “fight or flight” system. Rest and digest is a similar process of the parasympathetic system (PNS), which works in more long-term scenarios, such as digestion. PNS is often called the rest and digest system because its role is to slow things down to allow the digestive system to process food.

Getting Started With Mindful Eating

It starts with following the path of the food on the plate. Considering where it comes from start to finish. For example, a salad can consist of:

  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Lettuce
  • Cheese
  • Salad dressing

Looking at each ingredient and reflecting on its journey from start to finish helps a person gain respect for the food.

It takes time to accomplish this assessment of food properly. Small exercises can help. For example, an individual might take a small piece a food such as a grape, raisin or nut and set it down on a table. The next step would be to think about the food and work out its origins such as:

  • Considering how that food got to this point.
  • Making up a story about who picked the grape or nut.
  • Asking, “where did it grow?”
  • What processing did it go through before making it to the store?
  • What form of transportation took it from harvest to processing to the store?

In the above experiment, the next step would be picking up the piece of food to feel the texture, weight and size. Bringing it up to understand the smell becomes part of the eating process, as well. Mindful eating is about using all of the senses as part of the ritual of enjoying food; that can mean discovering:

  • Texture
  • Feel
  • Smell

It can also mean discovering how the body reacts to the food, such as:

  • When did the mouth first salivate?
  • The feel on the lips and tongue

Finally, placing the food inside the mouth to enhance the experience and feeling the texture and weight of the food in a different way. After biting into the food, chewing provides another point of view and method of being mindful while eating.

It may be necessary for those learning the art of mindful eating to complete this experiment before each meal by taking one thing off the plate and going through the steps. The practice works as a reminder that encourages mindful eating throughout the meal. With enough practice, mindful eating becomes more of a habit. The occasional exercise can also renew the motivation to continue with mindful eating.

Tips to Practice Mindful Eating

A new year means renewal; here are some facts and tips to help you learn more about mindful eating:

  • Taking a few minutes to relax and breath deep puts individuals in the right mind frame for mindful eating and signals the brain it is time to relax.
  • Mindful eating is as much a brain exercise as it is a way of consuming food. With that in mind, it is essential people enter into it with the right attitude. It is necessary to put aside any critical thoughts about eating and simply concentrate on each moment of the meal.
  • Being mindful of body cues. Often eating is more habit than need. Asking questions such as,“Am I hungry or is something else going on that makes me want to eat?” can be helpful. The body will send out hunger signals, but some individuals have not yet learned to recognize them. Focusing on what is going on in the brain will help push away any negativity and allow body cues to guide the process.
  • Eating on a schedule, one that allows plenty of time, at least 15 minutes, for each meal will support a mindful eating experience. Eating on the run is the opposite of mindful eating. Scheduling enough time to complete each meal and snack will allow for a mindful experience and will make nourishing oneself a priority.
  • Making mindful eating a family event. Bring every family member or friend into the process of preparing and enjoying the food, so the process feels more supported.
  • Eliminating external distractions such as TV, phones and reading material. The meal is the priority, everything else is just clutter.
  • Focusing on breathing and remaining in the moment.
  • Keeping a mindful eating journal. The journal strengthens the exercise so it becomes a habit. Food journals also work to help identify favorite foods and ones that were not as well liked as well as environments and experiences that were beneficial as opposed to triggering.

Putting silverware down between bites and using a bowl or plate to enjoy the meal makes the process a priority and puts the emphasis on nourishing one’s body; this habit is important for everyone and has also been utilized in eating disorder treatment programs, including binge eating disorder treatment.

Mindful eating combines the body’s natural mechanisms with effective practices to enjoy and focus on food consumption; this practice has been particularly effective for those struggling with an eating disorder, such as when in binge eating disorder treatment.