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Mindful Eating for Better Health

August 2012

Karen Ensle EdD, RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Have you heard of “mindless” eating? The opposite is “mindful eating” which means you are conscious of all of the foods that you consume. You are aware of the amounts of food and beverages you are consuming along with how they will affect your body. When you choose to practice mindful eating, you decide how much you will ingest, the type of food/beverage, and also the size of the serving. It is a simple method of helping to control calorie intake and body weight.

To feed your body mindfully, reject diet plans for weight loss, and nurture your body. Learn to look at food in a different way. People have many styles of eating. Some are very careful eaters, agonizing over every bite they put in their mouths. Others don’t eat until they are starving and end up overeating. Emotional eaters use food to alleviate stress, loneliness, or boredom. And many people eat while doing other things, and don’t really enjoy the food they eat. Mindful eating helps people pay attention to what they eat, why they eat, and what they think and feel about food.

Remember, eating is more than just putting food in your mouth and swallowing it. Mindful eaters eat when they are hungry, eat what they want, learn to pay attention while they eat, and learn to stop eating when they are no longer hungry. Hunger prompts a person to eat which is a basic biological need that is necessary to sustain life. Some people work hard to deny hunger, but this almost always leads to overeating later on.

Do you know what hunger feels like? Are you able to feel hunger? Many people have spent so much time denying their hunger that they lose their ability to feel the symptoms of hunger. These common hunger signals include: gurgling or growling noises in your stomach, difficulty concentrating, light-headedness or feeling faint, irritability, uncomfortable stomach pain, headache.

There is a difference between hunger and appetite. Hunger is the physical need for food. Appetite is a psychological desire to eat and is often related to specific foods. Appetite is a learned response associated with pleasant-tasting and satisfying food. Mindful eating practices include rating your hunger, eating only when you are hungry, and eating what you want.

In summary, the process of mindful eating is:

  • Allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food preparation and consumption by respecting your own inner wisdom.
  • Choosing to eat food that is both pleasing and nourishing to your body by using all your senses to explore, savor, and taste.
  • Acknowledging responses to food (likes, neutral, or dislikes) without judgment.
  • Learning to be aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide decisions to begin eating and to stop eating.

Mindful eating is a safe and healthy way to lose weight and improve your health. Take small steps to become more aware of your food and beverage choices by following the principles of mindful eating.