Written by Amanda Leach, RD
We are getting into the time of year that many people tend to struggle most with their eating, especially those of us who do not have a good relationship with food. Learning to eat mindfully can help improve that relationship so you can enjoy not just the holidays, but also your life more. It takes away that constant worry about what you are going to eat and helps you feel more balanced and thankful for all your body does to take care of you.
Mindful eating is not about dieting or about restricting, it is about recognizing and responding to your hunger as well as the signals your body sends about satiation. This helps naturally minimize overeating. There are many things that can interfere with your ability to listen to these signals, such as frequent dieting, food being used for reward or punishment, or having a negative relationship with your body. The great thing is we were all born mindful eaters. Just think about how every baby has no problem letting us know when they are hungry and at the same time they are able to stop eating when they have had enough, so our ability to be an attuned eater is never lost completely, sometimes it just has to be relearned.
Mindful eating is a fantastic way to fight against over eating. A study done in 1975 by Herman and Mack demonstrates this quite well. At the beginning of the study the researchers identified who were “restrained eaters” (dieters) and who were “unrestrained eaters” (non-dieters). The subjects then participated in what they believed was an ice cream tasting and where they were to rate the ice creams. Subjects were given either none, one, or two milkshakes prior to the actual ice cream tasting. Then they were given bowls of ice cream and told to eat as much as they wanted in order to rate the ice cream. One would think that the more milkshakes someone had prior to the ice cream tasting the less ice cream they would consume, because they would become full sooner. This is exactly what they found with the “unrestrained eaters” (non-dieters), however the “restrained eaters” (dieters) actually ate more ice cream AND the more milk shake they had prior to the taste testing the more ice cream they ate during the taste test! The non-dieters naturally reduced their later ice cream intake in response to their hunger/satiety, whereas the dieters did not. One reason this could have occurred is because dieting requires a person to disregard their own body’s signals and instead use the diet’s rules for when and what to eat. Over time this can cause someone to lose touch with their own body’s natural hunger and fullness signals. Another thing to consider as well is that many dieters end up struggling with all or nothing thinking. If they are not on their diet, then they are off their diet and knowing that they will be back on their diet again they will overeat while they are off their diet. This causes even further disconnect with their body’s natural hunger and fullness signals.
Thankfully we can relearn to eat mindfully, however it does not happen overnight, but being aware of and looking for signs of hunger and satiation is a good first step towards it. Sitting down to eat at the table every time you eat can also be helpful. It’s hard to be fully aware of your eating if you are multi-tasking, such as eating while you drive, work, or watch TV. Signals of satiety will have to be more intense before the body becomes aware of them while you are multi-tasking, leading to a greater intake than if eating at the table.
There are many self-help books available now that can help you work on listening to your body’s needs and improve your health. Also working with a dietitian that has experience with mindful eating can be extremely helpful. They can help you differentiate between different types of hunger, learn to respond appropriately when it is physical hunger, and to identify and respond to ques of satiety. If you are ready to end the yo-yo dieting and improve your relationship with food you can start working on these things today.
If you are interested in learning more about attuned eating you are welcome to come to “Breaking Your Love/Hate Relationship With Food” here at Whole Health Concord on November 8th, to find out more about attuned eating and tips to help you eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full, eat without fear without guilt, and without binging.