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What Is Mindful Eating? An Explanation for Students in Nutritionist School

In order to understand the concept of mindful eating, one must first look to the generalized concept of mindfulness, used in many spheres for addressing various mental health concerns, as well as depression, stress, anxiety, and more (Pike, 2019 ). Mindfulness is defined as “a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment” (Moore, 2020). 

Mindful eating can be interpreted as the use of mindfulness applied to eating behaviours, and is often employed by health and counselling professionals to help clients adopt healthier habits (Pike, 2019). Research defines the practice as “paying attention to our food, on purpose” and “bringing full awareness to each plate or bite of food” (Nelson, 2017). To understand more about mindful eating, and how it might be employed to improve health, we examine the concept more closely.

The Birth of Mindfulness and Research on its Health Benefits

Mindfulness was first introduced as a concept by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine who launched a Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979. He used the approach to help combat stress, chronic pain, and other conditions (theguardian.com, 2020). Zinn’s mindfulness methodology followed the Buddhist practice of meditation, while removing the religious aspect of the exercise. 

Proponents of the practice cite a wide body of research linking the approach with many benefits (Keng et al., 2011). For example, studies have shown that mindfulness can improve attention and memory, and promote empathy and self-regulation (harvardgazatte.com ). The self-regulation component that mindfulness promotes is especially of interest to many nutritionists.

How Mindfulness Can Help to Address Negative Eating Patterns 

In order for those attending nutritionist school to understand the potential benefits of mindful eating, it might be helpful to look first to the mind-gut connection and the physiological process of digestion. Due to the series of hormonal signals between the gut and nervous system, research has shown it takes approximately 20 minutes for the brain to fully register the body’s signal that enough food has been consumed (health.harvard.edu, 2020). Only then will it produce the feeling of fullness, known as satiety (health.harvard.edu, 2020). It’s thought that these signals become confused when eating too fast, as is the case during binge eating or emotional eating episodes, when a person may quickly consume comforting foods (health.harvard.edu, 2020).  

Researchers point to mindfulness as an approach that can help stop this unhealthy pattern by helping the person recognize the difference between emotional and physical hunger, with the awareness of a choice being made between eating for physical needs versus a need deriving from emotions, urges, or cravings (health.harvard.edu, 2020).

Mindfulness helps binge eaters identify feelings that trigger a session, so the pattern might be broken

In the case of binge eating, individuals can sometimes use food to numb themselves from emotions and to cope with overwhelming situations (eatingdisorderhope.com, 2020). It’s thought that mindful eating can help people become more aware of what they are feeling before they binge, gaining an awareness of associated emotions and feelings to help break the pattern.

While taking a slower, more thoughtful approach to eating may help people make healthier choices in their diet, and can assist with weight loss goals, weight loss in itself is not ultimately the purpose of mindful eating. As one researcher notes of the practice: 

        “It has little to do with calories, carbohydrates, fat, or protein. The purpose of mindful eating is not to lose weight, although it is highly likely that those who adopt this style of eating will lose weight. The intention is to help individuals savor the moment and the food and encourage their full presence for the eating experience.”(Nelson, 2017).

The person employing mindful eating takes charge in deciding what and how much to eat. In the process of becoming more fully aware of each moment, the person will often opt to eat less, and will often make more healthful food selections, with health benefits deriving from those behavioural changes (Nelson, 2017).

Strategies for Mindful Eating After Nutritionist School

Graduates of nutritionist college can encourage their clients to pay attention to many different things when attempting mindful eating. In the act of mindful eating, the individual pays special attention to the appearance of their meal, and other characteristics of the food before them, such as its smell, flavour, and texture (health.harvard.edu). The person is advised to focus on their chewing, and to remove all potential distractions to the meditative nature of the act of eating, such as one’s smartphone, TV, or work station (health.harvard.edu). It’s important for the person to focus on reducing the speed at which they eat as well as acknowledge any response they may have to the food without judgement, such as dislike or pleasure derived from its flavour (Pike, 2019).

Eating at one’s work station is considered a distraction to the focus required for mindful eating

The key component of mindful eating, according to research, is to bring full awareness to every meal, beginning from the moment the first bite of food is introduced to the mouth, and lasting until it is swallowed (Nelson, 2017). The person who chooses to pursue mindful eating must commit to a behaviour change, encouraged to appreciate food rather than restricting it, to trust in their food choices, and live more fully in each moment (Nelson, 2017).

Are you interested in learning how to pursue an online nutrition diploma?

Contact Rhodes Wellness College today to learn more about its Professional Integrative Nutrition Diploma Program!

Works Cited

Pike, Alyssa (2019). The Science Behind Mindful Eating. Retrieved from

Moore, Catherine (2020). What is Mindfulness? Definition + Benefits (Incl.Psychology). Retrieved from

https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-mindfulness/

The Guardian (2020). Master of Mindfulness: Jon Kabat-Zinn. Retrieved from

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/oct/22/mindfulness-jon-kabat-zinn-depression-trump-grenfell

The Harvard Gazette (2020). With mindfulness, life’s in the moment. Retrieved from

news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/less-stress-clearer-thoughts-with-mindfulness-meditation

Jeena Cho, (2016). 6 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation. Retrieved from

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeenacho/2016/07/14/10-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-mindfulness-and-meditation/?sh=26b5a2ca63ce

Harvard Health Publishing (2020). Mindful Eating. Retrieved from

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/mindful-eating

Shian-Ling Keng, et al (2011). Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies. Retrieved from

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3679190/

Eating Disorder Hope (2020). Binge Eating Disorder and Mindfulness/DBT. Retrieved from

atingdisorderhope.com/information/binge-eating-disorder/binge-eating-disorder-and-mindfulnessdbt