A New Approach to Eating

Mindfulness is very in and could just help your A1C and your waistline.

By Amy Stockwell Mercer

Mindful Eating

How many of us eat dinner in front of the nightly news, or lean over the newspaper while we sip our coffee at breakfast? How many of us walk, talk or drive while eating? The answer is almost everyone. And when we're finished eating, all too often we realize we ate more than we'd planned. Diabetes or no, overeating is not good for blood sugar control or weight management. But how do we make a change — from mindless eating to mindful eating — when our lives are too busy to stop and smell the risotto?

What is it?
A recent trend in psychology, mindfulness has become the latest "it" phrase in the nutrition world too. Mindfulness has its roots in Eastern philosophy and, broadly, it is simply adopting greater awareness. In Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes (New Harbinger Publications, 2012), co-author Megrette Fletcher, MEd, RD, CDE (and co-founder of The Center for Mindful Eating), says, "mindful eating is eating with intention and attention. Intention is to address hunger and cravings, and attention is being aware of how food tastes and our change [in] hunger and fullness." For some, it might mean a greater awareness of food and for others it might be simply slowing down while eating.

Conscious and Conscience
Heather Nielsen, co-founder of Transforming Diabetes (a website that provides diabetes health care services and support), participated in a mindful eating exercise where she was asked to take a small bite of food (a raisin, piece of fruit, or trail mix), and to employ a variety of senses (taste, smell, listen) to mindfully notice this food item. "We were encouraged to let it sit in our mouths, move it around with our tongue, noticing texture and taste before biting slowly into it, and continuing to observe what happened at each moment." Nielsen says this exercise showed her how unconscious she'd been with food. "I realized how diabetes had taken me away from the appreciation of food as food, and led me to see food as carbs or calories."

The Science
Although mindful eating is not a "diet," studies show that weight loss may be a ripple effect. Jean Kristeller, PhD, of Indiana State University, has created a program called Mindfulness Based-Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT). The 10-session program has been shown to reduce binge eating and give participants a greater ability to use hunger and satiety cues to self-regulate food choice and eating behavior. Another study at Duke University suggests that mindful eating can prevent weight regain in subjects after 15 months.

Weight management has not been an issue for Nielsen, a busy working mom, but she feels that incorporating mindful eating has helped with her diabetes management and maintaining a healthy weight. "I'm eating more intuitively, less emotionally, and am more likely to take in just what I need."

Becoming a mindful eater doesn't mean you have to buy a yoga mat, sit cross legged, and hum every time you feel hungry. It just means, simply paying attention to what you put in your mouth.

A Starter Kit*

Experts suggest starting gradually with mindful eating, eating one meal a day or week in a slower, more attentive manner. Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Set your kitchen timer to 20 minutes, and take that time to eat a normal-sized meal.
  • Try eating with your non-dominant hand; if you're a righty, hold your fork in your left hand when lifting food to your mouth.
  • Use chopsticks if you don't normally use them.
  • Eat silently for five minutes, thinking about what it took to produce that meal, from the sun's rays to the farmer to the grocer to the cook.
  • Take small bites and chew well.
  • Before opening the fridge or cabinet, take a breath and ask yourself, "Am I really hungry?" Do something else, like reading or going on a short walk.

*Adapted from "Mindful Eating May Help with Weight Loss," Harvard Medical School, Harvard Health Publications, HEALTHBeat, July 6, 2011. http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/mindful-eating-may-help-with-weight-loss

Recommended Reading

  • Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat With Diabetes by Michelle May, MD and Megrette Fletcher, MEd, RD, CDE
  • Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating and Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food by Susan Albers, PsyD
  • Mindful Eating, a Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Jan Chozen Bays, MD

NEXT: Visual Cues That Help You Guestimate Portion Sizes

Amy Stockwell Mercer is the author of The Smart Woman's Guide to Diabetes: Authentic Advice on Everything from Eating to Dating and Motherhood. You can read more from her at www.amystockwellmercer.com.

Reviewed by Susan Weiner, RD, MS, CDE, CDN. 8/12

Last Modified Date: February 25, 2014

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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