Mindful Eating

by Kate Ruley

Mindfulness has gained quite a bit of attention in recent months, and for good reason. Our society is becoming so fast-paced that we are not always engaged with our immediate surroundings and activities. The mindfulness movement encourages us to take a step back and make the state of being mindful more of a regular habit, rather than constantly multitasking or juggling several activities at one time.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with our eating. Have you ever watched a child eat? They have a precious innate ability to listen to their body’s cues for things like fullness, taste and hunger that many of us lose as adults. Children are natural intuitive eaters. Ellyn Satter, a well-known researcher, author, dietitian, and family therapist is an expert in feeding and eating. According to Satter, “Eating Competence is being positive, comfortable, and flexible with eating as well as matter-of-fact and reliable about getting enough to eat of enjoyable food. Even though they don’t worry about what and how much to eat, competent eaters do better nutritionally, are more active, sleep better, and have better medical tests. They are more self-aware and self-accepting, not only with food, but in all ways. To be a competent eater, be relaxed, self-trusting, and joyful about eating, and take good care of yourself with food.”

Satter goes on to describe a basic framework for eating naturally:

Feed yourself faithfully. Reassure yourself you will be fed. Structure is the supportive framework for taking care of yourself with food.

  • Take time to eat.
  • Develop a meal and snack routine that works for you.
  • Include foods you truly enjoy. Don’t worry about lists of food-to-eat and food-to-avoid.
  • Make eating times pleasant. Relax. Pay attention. Take your time.
  • Experiment with new food when you get ready; take it slowly.

Give yourself permission to eat. Reassure yourself: “It’s all right to eat. I just need to sit down and enjoy.”

  • Eat what you want. Your body needs variety and your soul needs pleasure.
  • Eat as much as you want. Your body knows how much it needs to eat.
  • Go to meals and snacks hungry (not starved) and eat until you truly feel like stopping.
  • Pay attention to your food. Taste it! Enjoy it!
  • Eat it if it tastes good; don’t if doesn’t!

Notice as you learn and grow. Becoming a competent eater is a process, and it takes time. As you combine structure with giving yourself permission to eat, you will find your eating falling into place.

  • You feel good about your eating and are reliable about seeing to it that you get fed.
  • You get better and better at eating as much as you are hungry for.
  • You eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other nutritious foods because you enjoy them, not because you have to.
  • Having “forbidden foods” at meals and snacks makes them ordinary foods to eat in ordinary ways.
  • Big servings don’t make you overeat. You eat it all if you want to, not if you don’t.

Eating in this mindful manner not only improves our overall wellbeing it frees us to develop a positive relationship with food, one based on nourishment and love. By doing so we can enjoy eating in a much deeper more meaningful way allowing us to reap the physical and emotional benefits of the foods we enjoy.