Mindful Eating: What is it, and How Does it Help?

Mindful eating

You’re probably familiar with the battle.

Imagine this: you’ve been “good” with your diet all day long, right? You’ve acted carefully — being sure to eat a salad on your lunch break and only drink water — but then you see it: that piece of cake or special cookie that’s calling your name. Maybe you were able to resist, or perhaps you gave in to your temptation and allowed yourself to indulge instead. Maybe you even consumed more of that “forbidden” food than you originally intended.

It’s a battle that many of us know all too well, but what if shifting the way we think about and consume food can actually help us win this battle for good?

Mindful Eating: A look at the Cycle

When we talk about mindful eating, what we’re really talking about is being conscious of where we are at all stages of the eating cycle. Let’s examine that cycle below:

  • Why – Why do I eat?
  • When – When do I eat?
  • What – What do I eat?
  • How – How do I eat?
  • How much – How much do I eat?
  • Where – Where do I invest my energy?

Now, before we begin to talk about our own eating habits, try thinking of someone who you know that doesn’t struggle with food. What do you think the eating cycle looks like for them?

Chances are, they:

  • Eat instinctively
  • Eat because they need fuel (why)
  • Eat when they feel hunger, but maybe sometimes for pleasure or convenience as well (when)
  • Eat whatever they feel like eating (what)
  • Eat intentionally (how)
  • Stop eating when they feel full or uncomfortable (how much)
  • Go on to do normal day-to-day activities (Where)

Why do we Struggle?

Depressed Overweight WomanIf you’ve experienced the frustrations of yo-yo dieting or you’re familiar with the “eat, repent, repeat” cycle, however, you know that this does not come easy for many people. Oftentimes, circumstances in our lives lead us to develop an emotional relationship with food. We use food to cope with difficult life stressors, or we associate it with particular memories and experiences. As a result, we develop nutrition habits that aren’t beneficial to our weight, our physical health or even our mental health.

But what happens when we try to “control” what it is that leaves us feeling guilty, unhappy or even shamed when it comes to food? Typically, we do one of two things that bring us out of balance:

  • We Eat Restrictively  (to control) – When we restrict ourselves, we often count and limit calories, cut our portion sizes and eliminate certain foods from our diet. As a result, we’re usually left feeling hungry, tired and victim to even more unwanted cravings.
  • We Overeat (out of control)  – Despite our best intentions, it’s common to end up overeating. When this happens, we’re generally eating mindlessly due to distractions or we’re feeling the negative effects of deprivation. This is often accompanied by feelings of added guilt, shame and frustration.

How do we Practice Mindful Eating?

When we restrict our food intake or overindulge, what we’re experiencing is a lack of balance. And, as a result, our quality of life is affected. Mindful eating, on the other hand, allows us to examine our relationship with food, stay conscious of what goes into our body and also why we’re putting it there. We’re ADDING to our quality of life, not detracting from it!

Consider these tips for practicing mindful eating and “winning” the battle with food:

  • lightbulbAssess Your Emotions – Before eating, ask yourself “Why do I want this? Do I need this?” As humans, we are designed to eat instinctively. But if your emotions become your primary drive for eating, you must first fix your thoughts before turning to food.
  • Allow Room for Moderation – Moderation is that healthy middle ground between restriction and overindulgence and it decreases your risk for both.
  • Cut Out Distractions – Turn off the television. Pull over to eat. Eat in an environment that allows you to only focus on your food, because multitasking increases our risk of consuming too much or what we don’t even need.
  • Listen to Your Body – Your body is smart, and it knows to tell you when you’re hungry or you’ve had enough to eat.


Mindfulness refers to the practice of being aware of your surroundings and what’s “in the moment.” By practicing mindful eating, you’re in a better place to be able to tackle the emotional roller coaster with food that leaves us frustrated, overwhelmed and discouraged with our goals for weight and heath.

Want more information about mindful eating, what it is and how it can help you on your journey?

You can watch the full Youtube video on this lesson, presented by Dr. Michelle May, MD at the 2014 Your Weight Matters National Convention, by CLICKING HERE.

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