The term mindfulness refers to being present and fully aware of one’s experiences. It allows one to use emotions, thoughts and senses to bring about awareness to what is being practiced. Being mindful does not only mean we’re aware of our thoughts but also encompasses the surrounding environment, bodily sensations and feelings.
Mindful eating (also commonly known as intuitive eating) combines behavioural change with dietary changes and has become increasingly popular over the last few years. So much so that the practice of mindful eating has and is currently being studied to determine various theories. Eating mindfully encourages us to be completely aware of our eating experiences.
Various studies have shown that without behavioural change, dieting results in failure. In the short term, they’ll work but without changing one’s behaviour, they often aren’t sustainable on a long-term basis.
Mindful eating encompasses:
- Paying attention to what is on our plates
- Focusing on sensual awareness of the food (taste, touch, smell etc)
- Observing the experience in a non-judgemental manner
- Differentiating between physical and physiological hunger
- Discouraging labelling foods as ‘bad’ or ‘good’
The purpose of mindful eating is not necessarily weight-loss. It doesn’t focus on caloric intake or macronutrient content of meals. However, becoming more mindful may lead to subsequent weight-loss1.
Systematic reviews have reported on how effective mindful eating is in binge eating disorders (BED). These reviews showed positive effects in reducing maladaptive behaviour1.
When it comes to eating, many of us go into an “automatic” mode whereby we are eating not only to fulfil hunger but rather to clean our plates. Placing too much focus on the specific macronutrient content of each meal may distract one from internal awareness and feelings of satiety.
Courses on mindful eating can be done online which include guided meditation and weekly lecture sessions focusing on topics such as making peace with food, honouring your hunger, stress eating and cravings.
The following attitudes are associated with eating mindfully:2
- Patience: tasting the food properly as opposed to rushing to finish a meal
- Non-striving: typically, with dieting, one is striving for weight-loss. With mindful eating no specific outcomes are being measured.
- Awareness: being fully aware of each bite and plate of food
Some tips to eat mindfully include:
- Take time to think whether you’re physically hunger or if the hunger is led by emotions
- Savour each bite
- Consider the processes it took for the food to be on your plate, appreciate what it took to have this meal in front of you
- Continuously check in with your body to see how you’re feeling
- Put away distractions while eating. Switch off the TV and put your phone in another room
Here is an example of one of the tools used in a mindfulness-based eating awareness training (MB-EAT) program:3
- Sit down with your meal in front of you, undistracted and aware.
- Begin by closing your eyes and taking two or three deeper breaths to settle in.
- Let breathing fall into a natural and comfortable rhythm, and focus on the sensations of breathing for a moment.
- Notice any thoughts, emotions, or feelings that arise in the body, without judgment. Simply accept whatever is happening right now.
- Pay particular attention to any thoughts, emotions, or feelings that arise that may be related to eating or the food in front of you.
- Bring attention to your level on the hunger scale. What number best explains your experience of hunger right now? How did you decide that number?
- Bring your attention to your level on the fullness scale. What number best explains your experience of fullness right now? How did you decide that number?
- Bring your attention back to your breath, and the body.
- Open your eyes, and choose to eat the food in front of you with mindful enjoyment
Practising the above-mentioned points are not the only things one can do to eat mindfully. Mindful eating also encompasses the eating experience right from where the food is bought up until you’ve finished your meal. Considering the sustainability of your foods is important to consider, not only for the environment but also one’s health. Educating oneself on the growing process of food and purchasing fresh, locally produced goods can cultivate mindfulness.
Supporting one’s community naturally brings a sense of awareness as to where and how the food got to your plate. Buying local foods significantly reduces the chain of distribution and therefore positively affects the environment in comparison to large scale grocery stores. Supporting the economy as well as sustainable agriculture goes hand in hand with purchasing locally produced foods.
Here are some options for buying locally produced fresh produce within South Africa:
- Cape Town
- The Oranjezicht Farmers Market
- Nude Foods
- Babylonstoren Farm
- Wild Organic Foods
- Earth Fair Food Market
- Slow Food Market
- Johannesburg / Pretoria
- Neighbourgoods Market
- Impala Fruit and Flowers
- Bryanston Organic and Natural Market
- Farm Fresh Online
- Port Elizabeth
- Organic Footprints
- Back to Earth Organic Market
- Green Heart Organics
- Freshly Pick’d
- The Munching Mongoose
- Karkloofs Farmers Market
- Free State
- Mangaung Fresh Produce Market
Written by Nicole Keeling, Registered Dietitian, HPCSA, ADSA
1: Warren JM, Smith N, Ashwell M.(2017).A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutrition Research Reviews, 30(2):272-283. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954422417000154
2: Nelson JB.(2017). Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat. Diabetes Spectrum, 30(3):171-174. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5556586/.
3: Alyssia 2021, Mind over munch, accessed 10 November 2021, www.mindovermunch.com