Ahhhhh mindfulness & mindful eating. Everyone’s loving a bit of ommmmmm aren’t they? I am personally really passionate specifically about the role mindful eating practices play in nourishing and reconnecting back to the body, and for healing disordered relationships with food and eating. But I’m noticing something else. Something that’s quite disturbing. Something that knocks all the zen out of me and gets me cursing and swearing (more than usual, some may say). I’m noticing many organisations, companies and (perhaps well intentioned) people mis-using or misrepresenting mindful eating in a number of ways. Sometimes, it’s as a way to sell weight loss, “curb the cravings” or a way to control eating. Some may ask “well, what’s the problem? It’s not as if it’s a diet!” Well it can be, believe me! There are quite a number of very important, yet perhaps subtle differences between mindful eating and the style of mindful eating that is incorporated into diet programs. Read More
According to The Center for Mindful Eating (TMCE), one definition of mindful eating is:
“Mindful Eating is allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom. By using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body, acknowledging your responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment, and becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating you can change your relationship to food”
What really stands out to me here are four primary points that I also believe are the cornerstones of authentic mindful eating:
- No judgement
- Attention to body cues
So let’s change tack…..I have a little “rogue mindful eating” litmus test for you when you’re reading or hearing something about mindful eating……
Mindful Eating for Weight Loss:
If we’re remaining true to the principles or philosophy of mindful eating, whether someone loses weight or not is simply not the point. If someone eats more mindfully, pays attention to what their body and mind needs at any one and does lose weight, that’s fine. But again, it’s not the point. And I must point out that for some people who battle with eating and their body, weight loss can trigger a whole bunch of new challenges so it’s not always the desirable outcome it’s sold as being.
One of the central tenets of mindfulness is non-judgement, which means taking a very neutral & accepting stance. In other words, “it is as it is.” If you’re concerned about your weight at the moment, using mindful eating specifically to change your body means that you’re rejecting things as they are now. This doesn’t mean that you simply “accept your body” (although that’s a wonderful thing to work towards!) but more that you create some space, self compassion and kindness towards yourself for the “now” moment, which (ironically) can really help you grow and perhaps make some different choices in your future moments (such as choices about the way you nourish, and moveyour body).
So it’s really taking a wonderful tenet of mindfulness, but twisted into trying to control or change your body. It just doesn’t make sense? You can’t change your body right now, so the idea that you can take mindfulness (present moment) into the future (change in your body) is completely at odds. It’s sold like “killing 2 birds with the one stone” but actually, the 2 birds are not flying together! The reality is that some people may lose weight through incorporating mindful eating practices, others may not but again, if we’re using mindfulness principles it’s not the point. Rather, the aim is to create greater awareness of our eating behaviours, and the many varying factors that influence our decisions each day.
Rather than seeing mindful eating as a way to lose weight, an alternative could be to see mindful eating as a way to pay attention to your body’s natural cues, aim to feed yourself faithfully according to those cues as often as possible, drop the judgey judgey talk, rest or take breaks when you need to and aim to integrate plenty of self-care into your life. This way, there are no guarantees (#sorrynotsorry) but it does encourage you to develop a strong and stable sense of confidence for the long-term in being able to pay attention to what’s happening at any one time and respond accordingly, in a way that is respectful and kind.
Mindful eating to “beat cravings”
This is one of my personal faves. Again, in mindful eating we’re not trying to “beat” anything. You can certainly bring awareness to the sensations and urges that arise in particular situations, and that’s fantastic! But in bringing awareness, we’re aiming to open up opportunities for choice, not force the situation to do whatever it is you feel is “right.” It can be really interesting to get curious about cravings (see previous blog Hello cravings, what are you trying to tell me?) & try to understand more about what “lies beneath” rather than seeing it as a terrible behaviour than needs to be extinguished.
I must always eat when I’m hungry, and stop when I’m full or I’ve stuffed it up!
Hmmmmm…..remind you of the all-or-nothing thinking of a diet? Rather than using judgement and pressure to “get it right”, mindfulness invites us to be curious, to be gentle, to stay open to opportunities for new discoveries and overall, to be really kind to ourselves as we navigate this very tricky world of food and eating. Being hard on yourself if you eat before you actually feel hungry isn’t being mindful, it’s being critical. But then if this does happen, you then don’t need to judge yourself for that too! Can you see how this can all tumble into a heap for people? Oh dear.
Not all mindful eating programs are the same. If in doubt, run them through the litmus test to assess whether it’s about health and wellbeing, or really just about weight. In the end it’s up to you, and remember that it’s perfectly normal to stumble trip, stumble trip through mindful eating as you find ways that fit nicely for you.