Is mindful eating a healthier approach than dieting?
We know, for the majority of us, dieting simply does not work.
Food restrictions may, in the short-term, lead to weight loss. However, the restrictive nature of dieting often causes long term harm. Ignoring our body’s internal eating cues leads to cravings, while labeling foods as “good” and “bad” can cause feelings of guilt and judgement. In the end, dieting can lead to a fear of food and a distrust in ourselves to make choices.
Mindful eating is not a diet
Mindful eating is not a diet but a way of reconnecting and enjoying eating. Plus, it actually changes our brain! Let’s take a look at how mindfulness can help develop healthier eating habits.
What is Mindfulness
Being mindful is to be aware of the present moment without judgement.
Mindfulness encourages us to be curious and considerate of our emotions. This way, we are able to respond thoughtfully rather than react quickly to the situation, whether we like the situation or not.
Mindful Eating incorporates mindfulness into our food and eating behaviours.
"Mindful eating allows us to let go of food rules, ideas of a perfect diet or dream body to connect with our body's cues"
How does mindfulness work?
As a dietitian, I love getting into the science and mindfulness has plenty of research to back it up.
We have known for a while there are many benefits to mindfulness for long-term behaviour change and improving well-being. Although, current research shows mindfulness actually changes our brain. There are two regions of the brain involved in mindfulness.
The amygdala is an ancient region, deep inside the brain that processes emotion such as fear, anxiety and stress. The amygdala is responsible for the “fight or flight” response, causing us to quickly react to a situation.
The pre-frontal cortex, at the very front of our brain, is involved in awareness, concentration and decision making. This part of our brain allows us to make decisions from a calmer place and analyse our options. We can be more flexible and have more awareness of urges, cravings and impulses.
Mindfulness practice alters these regions. The amygdala -the reactive region- shrinks. While the pre-frontal cortex –the responsive region- becomes denser. Furthermore, the neural connections between these two regions are altered.
This means practicing mindfulness calms the amygdala and helps us to tune into our more thoughtful region of the brain. This allows us to have non-judgmental responses, rather than stress-fueled reactions.
“Mindfulness opens up a space for choice”
What does this mean for Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating aims to use this non-judgmental awareness to curiously explore why we react a certain way to different food cues.
For example, we may notice that stress causes us to feel unwanted emotions and seek comfort through eating; or the guilt associated with wanting a “restricted” food leads to overeating.
"mindful eating allows us to have non-judgmental responses rather than stress-fueled reactions"
Mindful eating helps us become aware of our emotions and habits, develop skills to eat more in tune with our body’s cues and build the self-trust to enable ourselves to let go of these restrictive practices. Importantly, there is no right or wrong way to eat mindfully.
The aim of mindful eating is to form new eating habits through the process of mindfully letting go, rather than forcing change.
Who would benefit from mindful eating?
Mindful eating will help those who feel disconnected from their eating habits or feel to have forgotten how to eat.
This can be the case after dieting. Dieting sets strict food rules or labels that can often clash with our internal and external cues of what and when to eat.
It can also help those with a disordered eating pattern. Disordered eating may involve restricting food in the presence of cues to eat, episodes of bingeing or overeating as well as feelings of guilt, stress or anxiety associated with eating.
What about weight loss?
Let’s talk about weight loss for a moment. Can mindfulness replace dieting as a new weight loss regime?
Weight loss should not be the goal of mindful eating. Using mindfulness in this way, we risk holding onto food rules, restrictions and body shame rather than developing trust with ourselves.
Instead, mindfulness can provide a strong foundation for long-term behaviour change, self-trust and food enjoyment.
Are you curious about mindful eating?
Curiosity is a great start as it is one of the most important principles in mindful eating :)