Mindful Eating Helps Prevent Overeating

Practice focusing on and paying attention to what you eat.

Posted Oct 21, 2014

Stay focused on what you're eating.

Meanwhile, our problems persist and we may not live long enough for scientific absolutes to prove what we highly suspect to be true. We want some answers, and we want them now. And that’s where an educated opinion, or expert advice, will just have to do.

Such is the case with the link between mindful behavior and disordered eating. Early in 2014, researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and Bellarmine University in Louisville published a review in the professional journal Eating Behaviors of 14 studies that looked at mindful meditation as the main intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss.

The researchers found that mindfulness training reduces episodes of binge eating and emotional eating in those who engage in this type of behavior. They found mixed evidence for its effect on weight loss, which means mindfulness may have helped some people but definitely didn’t help others. They concluded that more research is necessary to compare mindful meditation to other types of support, and to measure its long-term effects.

And so it goes. I cannot, with full scientific backing, guarantee that mindful behavior will help control your overeating, emotional eating or weight, especially in the long term. But as someone who has been teaching mindful eating for decades, back to when dietitians referred to it less spiritually as “behavior modification,” I can tell you with great assurance that eating mindfully and living mindfully is better for you than making mindless choices. And if you consistently practice mindfulness around food, your eating habits will improve and you are likely to eat better food, and perhaps less food. Your eating will definitely be more in control, and less random.

Meditation can be defined as actively training your mind to increase awareness. To this end, you can train yourself to be more mindful about your eating habits. Mindful eating is a form of meditation that some of you may be familiar with and others, not. Whether this is a review for you, or a brand new approach, here’s how you modify your behavior to become more mindful and meditative about eating: 

• Choose one place to eat in your home, such as the kitchen or dining table, and eat there whenever you have meals or snacks at home. The purpose of this rule is to narrow down the places in your home that you associate with food and eating. NO more eating on the couch!

• Always set a complete table service, including a place mat and pitcher of water, even when you are eating by yourself. This helps you pay more attention to the fact that you’re eating and to treat the food you eat with more respect. Don’t allow yourself to eat anything, not even a cup of popcorn, unless the setting is complete.

• Whenever you eat, don’t do anything else. Don’t watch television, use your computer, check your phone or pay bills. This helps you focus on what you’re eating and how much you’re eating. It also helps eliminate some of the activities you may unknowingly associate with food.

• Drink a full glass of water when you sit down, before you begin to eat. Drink more water while you eat. This helps you feel fuller without adding excess food to your plate.

• Use small plates and serve yourself small portions. This is a great way to get used to smaller portion sizes and after awhile, they’ll become normal for you. (And keep in mind that you can always go back for more; no deprivation if you’re still hungry!)

• Eat slowly and put your fork down between every bite. Consciously chew every bit of food. The more slowly you eat, the more likely you are to eat only a reasonable amount of food and to recognize when you are full and can stop eating. 

Reference:

Katterman SN, Kleinman BM, Hood MM, Nackers LM, Corsica JA. “Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: A systematic review.” Eating Behaviors. April 2014. 15(2):197-204