What is ‘Mindful eating’? What type of ‘Mindless Eater’ are you?

It is probably one of the most common things nowadays: Eating in front of the TV, eating while reading, eating while checking social networks on the mobile, eating while working in front of the computer… It happens to me and I have tried to get rid of that habit, which I’m aware is really bad. My mom (and I’m almost sure yours too) always told me it was terrible to eat while doing something else, but why? What if I don’t find the time to just eat because I have lots of work and I prefer to sacrifice eating my meal while working in front of the computer than leaving later? Or is a bit boring especially when living alone and you have no one else to talk to. It happens to me. I actually don’t eat much if I’m not watching something. Also, that I eat faster when doing so. Sometimes I’m not fully aware of what I’m eating. Has it happened to you that later in the evening or the next day(s) you don’t even remember what you ate?  But really, why is it SO wrong?

Well… I dedicated some time browsing around and found the answer. I’ll share with you three articles that go deep into the topic from experts. There is incredibly a lot of information out there, really lots. So… I hope these data helps you changing this habit. I am decided to cut it off. Here we go!

How to really enjoy your meal | What kind of Mindless Eater are you?
Mindful Eating is eating with Intention and Attention

How to really enjoy your meal

Published by Jan Chozen Bays, M.D. in Psychology TodayMindful Eating

Photo from Psychology Today

You’ve been working hard on a project on the computer, and it’s time for at treat. You’ve been holding off, waiting for the delicious taste of – here, please fill in the blank. Coffee ice cream? a piece of dark chocolate? a donut? an onion bagel? some fresh strawberries?
For me, it would be a creamy, sweet-sour lemon tart.

You take the first bite. Very yummy! You take the second bite. Still yummy, maybe a little less yummy than the first bite, but never mind. You glance at the computer and something catches your eye. A Hollywood scandal, a political gaff, a weird and wacky video. You click on it, watch, and continue eating.

Disappearing food!

Suddenly you look down. Where did that treat go? Your fingers are sticky and there’s still a trace of flavor on your tongue, so it must have disappeared down the hatch while you weren’t looking . . . or smelling, or tasting, or enjoying. Disappointment and dissatisfaction set in. “That one just vanished! I’d better have another one.” Next the internal critic voice pipes up “What are you thinking? One treat is enough. You know you’re trying to lose weight/eat better/stop grazing/etc.”

Thus begins the struggle over the simple, biologically natural, pleasurable act of eating. When I tell people that I’ve written a book on Mindful Eating*, and describe what it is, almost everyone will relate some difficulty they have with food, from an embarrassed confession of an addiction to chocolate to the palpable misery of binging and purging.
How is it that food and eating have become such a common source of unhappiness? And why has it occurred in a country with an abundance of food? The fundamental reason for our imbalance with food and eating is that we’ve forgotten how to be present as we eat. We eat mindlessly.

Food, fat cells and the stomach are not the problem

We decided that the problem was in the food, so we’ve used chemical technology to take the calories out, the fat out, and to substitute chemical sweeteners and artificial fats. Food is food. It is neither good nor bad. Then we decided the problem was our fat cells, so we liposuctioned them out. Fat cells are just trying to do their job, which is to store energy for lean times ahead or for famine. For most of our evolutionary history, starvation was one snowstorm or drought away. Our fat cells are there to help us survive! When I lived in Africa I discovered that skinny women there have trouble finding spouses. They aren’t considered good marriage material —- they’ll get sick and die on you!

Then we decided that the digestive system was the problem, so we staple the stomach or surgically by-pass the small intestine. The digestive system is just trying to do its job, breaking down food, absorbing nutrients and excreting what’s not needed. (There’s no question that bariatric surgery can be an emergency life-saving measure for some people. It works by forcing people to eat mindfully, causing pain and vomiting if they don’t. It is very expensive, has lots of side effects, and is not a long-term solution for the majority of people or for children with out-of-balance eating.)

The problem is not in the food, the fat cells or the stomach and intestines. The problem lies in the mind. It lies in our lack of awareness of the messages coming in from our body, from our very cells and from our heart. Mindful eating helps us learn to hear what our body is telling us about hunger and satisfaction. It helps us become aware of who in the body/heart/mind complex is hungry, and how and what is best to nourish it. Mindful eating is natural, interesting, fun, and cheap.

In this blog I’ll explore many aspects of Mindful Eating and Mindless Eating.** I’ll include interesting research on eating, cross cultural observations, and personal stories from our Mindful Eating workshops.

I’ll also include Mindful Eating “Homework” at the end of each blog. These are suggestions for how to weave mindful eating into your life. People who take our mindful eating workshops really enjoy doing the homework. Don’t give yourself a grade. Of course you won’t do it perfectly. Just give it a try.

What Is Mindfulness?

Let’s start with what Mindfulness is. It is deliberately paying attention, being fully aware of what is happening both inside and outside yourself – in your body, heart and mind – and outside yourself, in your environment. Mindfulness is awareness without criticism or judgement.

The last sentence is very important. In mindful eating we are not comparing ourselves to anyone else. We are not judging ourselves or others. We are simply witnessing the many sensations and thoughts that come up as we eat. The recipe for mindful eating calls for the warming effect of kindness and the spice of curiosity.

What is Mindful Eating?

Mindful eating involves paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside the body. We pay attention to the colors, smells, textures, flavors, temperatures, and even the sounds (crunch!) of our food. We pay attention to the experience of the body. Where in the body do we feel hunger? Where do we feel satisfaction? What does half-full feel like, or three quarters full?

We also pay attention to the mind. While avoiding judgement or criticism, we watch when the mind gets distracted, pulling away from full attention to what we are eating or drinking. We watch the impulses that arise after we’ve taken a few sips or bites: to grab a book, to turn on the TV, to call someone on our cell phone, or to do web search on some interesting subject. We notice the impulse and return to just eating.

We notice how eating affects our mood and how our emotions like anxiety influence our eating. Gradually we regain the sense of ease and freedom with eating that we had in childhood. It is our natural birthright.

The old habits of eating and not paying attention are not easy to change. Don’t try to make drastic changes. Lasting change takes time, and is built on many small changes. We start simply.

Pick your mindful eating homework

  1. Try taking the first four sips of a cup of hot tea or coffee with full attention?
  2. If you are reading and eating, try alternating these activities, not doing both at once? Read a page, then put the book down and eat a few bites, savoring the tastes, then read another page, and so on.
  3. At family meals, you might ask everyone to eat in silence for the first five minutes, thinking about the many people who brought the food to your plates.
  4. Try eating one meal a week mindfully, alone and in silence. Be creative. For example, could you eat lunch behind a closed office door, or even alone in our car?

Enjoy your meal!

Further Reading and listening:

Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, by Jan Chozen Bays, with an introduction by Jon Kabat-Zinn, released February 3, 2009 by Shambhala Publishing. (Includes a CD of 14 mindful eating exercises and meditations.)
Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, by Brian Wansink, published 2006 by Bantam Books. (A very funny look at very interesting research about how we all eat mindlessly.)

What Kind of Mindless Eater Are You?

Published by Susan Albers, Psy.D. in Psychology Today, Comfort Cravings

There are many ways to eat mindlessly. In my book, Eating Mindfully I outlined several different kinds of mindless eaters. See if any of these characteristics sound familiar:

  1. I tend to eat when I’m nervous, stressed or bored.
  2. I tend to overeat when I am with my friends or at parties.
  3. I tend to eat whenever I see food, particularly if it smells or tastes good.
  4. I tend to eat at the same time of the day whether I am hungry or not.
  5. I’m too busy to eat, I squeeze it in between tasks or while I’m working.
  6. I tend to automatically follow diet “rules” instead of thinking through whether I want it or not.
  7. I tend to eat well at meals but have difficulty during the holidays.
  8. I tend to eat well during the day but snack as soon as the sun goes down.
  9. All of the above

MINDLESS EATING TYPES

If the statement above describes you, you might be…

Photo from Psychology Today
  1. Mindless Emotional Eater: You eat in reaction to emotions, any kind of feelings. Good and bad feelings lead to munching.
  2. Mindless Social Eater: You tend to overeat in social situations or perhaps you match your friend or spouse’s eating bite for bite.
  3. Mindless Pleasure Eater: You are very reactive to your senses. Eating is often triggered by the wonderful aroma of cookies baking or spying a dish of goodies instead of to reduce your hunger.
  4. Routine Mindless Eater: You like structure. You follow meal times and sometimes just eat on autopilot.
  5. Multitasking Mindless Eater: You tend to eat while you work, make dinner, drive or play. Sometimes you over or under eat because you are distracted and your attention is divided between eating and doing something else.
  6. Mindless Eating Dieter: You struggle with cravings and feeling hungry. When you follow diet rules instead of mindfully listening to what your body wants and needs, sometimes you end up not eating enough. Or, you overeat after you give up battling your cravings.
  7. Mindless Special Events Eater: You might eat well day-by-day but tend to overeat on holidays, birthdays, celebratory dinners and special occasions.
  8. Mindless Night Eating: You often eat well from sun up to sunset but at night you struggle with getting the munchies. You might even get up in the middle of the night to snack.
  9. All of the above: A little of all of these sound familiar.

There are many other kinds of mindless eating (see Eating Mindfully and Eat, Drink & Be Mindful). These are just a few examples.

Mindful Eating

The good news is that you can turn around these habits. Knowing what kind of mindless eater you are is the first step. This week I invite you to write down your “mindless eating habits.” Notice I didn’t say calories or portion sizes. Instead, begin by noticing the way you eat. You might be surprised at what you find. Sometimes it is simply tweaking one of the habits that keep you stuck. Other times, it can feel pretty difficult to alter these eating habits because they have become so ingrained.

Mindful eating is eating with intention and attention

Originally from Mindful Eating

Eating is a natural, healthy, and pleasurable activity for satisfying hunger. However, in our food-abundant, diet-obsessed culture, eating is often mindless, consuming, and guilt-inducing instead. Mindful eating is an ancient mindfulness practice with profound modern implications and applications for resolving this troubled love-hate relationship with food.

So, what is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is eating with intention and attention:

  • Eating with the intention of caring for yourself
  • Eating with the attention necessary for noticing and enjoying your food and its effects on your body

As you can see, mindful eating is much more than “eating slowly, without distraction.” While that’s certainly an important part of it, at Am I Hungry? we believe that mindful eating encompasses the entire process of eating:

  • Awareness of your physical and emotional cues
  • Recognition of your non-hunger triggers for eating
  • Learning to meet your other needs in more effective ways than eating
  • Choosing food for both enjoyment and nourishment
  • Eating for optimal satisfaction and satiety
  • Using the fuel you’ve consumed to live the vibrant life you crave.

This broad application makes mindful eating a powerful tool for developing a healthier, happier relationship with food.

How does mindful eating help solve eating issues?

Many people who struggle with food react mindlessly to their unrecognized or unexamined triggers, thoughts, and feelings. In other words, they re-act-repeating past actions again and again-feeling powerless to change. Mindfulness increases your awareness of these patterns without judgment and creates space between your triggers and your actions.

For example, whenever you notice that you feel like eating and pause to ask the question, “Am I hungry?”, you are able to observe your thoughts and choose how you will respond. Instead of reacting mindlessly, mindfulness gives you response-ability. That is how mindful eating empowers you to finally break old automatic or habitual chain reactions and discover options that work better for you.

How is ‘Am I Hungry?’ different?

Although it is a deceptively simple title, the question “Am I hungry?” opens the door to understanding why, when, what, how, and how much you eat, and where you invest your energy. All of the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs use the Mindful Eating Cycle, a simple model developed by founder Michelle May MD, to help you become aware and in charge of the hundreds of eating decisions you make every day.

These are the questions the ‘Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Cycle’ helps you answer.

Photo from Mindful Eating

Why?
Why do I eat? Or in other words, what is driving my eating cycle at any given time?

When?
When do I feel like eating? When do I think about eating? When do I decide to eat?

What?
What do I eat? What do I choose from all the available options?

How?
How do I eat? How, specifically, do I get the food I’ve chosen into my body?

How Much?
How much do I eat? How much fuel do I consume?

Where?
Where do I invest the energy I consume? Where does the fuel I’ve consumed go?

Next Steps
Learn more about yourself. Understanding your personal eating pattern is a powerful first step toward meaningful transformation; take our Eating Cycle Assessment.

Learn more about Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs and Training. Learn more about Am I Hungry?

Learn more about the Mindful Eating Programs we offer. Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs guide you to address these questions so you can live the big, vibrant life you crave! Find the program that’s right for you.

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One thought on “What is ‘Mindful eating’? What type of ‘Mindless Eater’ are you?

  1. Nice post! For those who are interested in learning to eat mindfully, the free (donation optional) download version of The Mindfulness Diet, an easy-to-understand, self-paced, customizable mindful eating program (includes Mindful Eating Coach™ app) is available at http://www.MindfulnessDiet.com. The program is fully and completely free by (optional) donation…no fine print.

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