What exactly IS mindful eating?

Do you think about what you’re going to eat and why before you put it in your mouth? I’m feeling a tad guilty at the moment because I just had two or three handfuls of tortilla chips — before dinner. They called to me and I responded by hesitating a few seconds to consider the reasons why it wasn’t a wise choice. Then I grabbed the bag, ripped off the chip clip, and scooped out a handful. And then another. And another.

Kitty Broihier, Mindful Eating

I don’t think that’s what Kitty Broihier has in mind when she talks about mindful eating. Kitty is a registered dietitian here in southern Maine. She is my go-to nutrition expert whenever I share a recipe or write about food. She is certified in Mindful Eating teaching/coaching from two different organizations and will be offering a new Mindful Eating class on September 8.

I asked her if she’d write a few blog posts that explain what mindful eating really means (not my version) and how we can get started. This is her first post. You’ll find information about her upcoming class at the end.

When I tell people I teach mindful eating I usually get a quizzical look in response, and then the question: “What is mindful eating, anyway?” It’s a good question because although the phrase “mindful eating” is growing in usage, there are still lots of folks who don’t know what it’s about or why anyone would be interested in eating mindfully.

I describe the essence of mindful eating as being the non-judgmental awareness of one’s body signals, thoughts, and feelings as they relate to food and eating. The ideas behind mindful eating are not new, just as mindfulness is not a new concept. There is a substantial body of research on the impact of mindfulness-based therapy and the reduction of stress and anxiety, as well as its use for substance abuse/misuse issues. The application of mindfulness techniques to the act of eating is more recent, but there is a growing body of scientific research specifically focused on mindful eating’s benefits and its use for certain types of eating issues, such as binge eating.

Chef looking at tomato/Adobe stock

Benefits of mindful eating can include:

  • Reacquainting yourself with your body’s hunger and fullness cues
  • The freedom to move away from restrictive eating plans
  • Boosting enjoyment of food
  • Learning to disengage from habitual eating reactions
  • Bringing awareness to choices you have around food and eating
  • Reducing binge-eating and over-eating behaviors
  • Enhancing body kindness and body acceptance
  • Greater understanding of emotional connections to food/eating

Mindful eating is not:

  • Restrictive in any way
  • A weight-loss diet (although one can still pursue weight-loss while  eating mindfully)
  • Focused only on eating habits
  • The same as intuitive eating

Learning to eat mindfully isn’t difficult, but incorporating mindful eating habits into your life does take practice. Like any new skills, one has to repeat them until the brain “rewires” itself. In fact, this is one of the benefits of practicing mindful eating habits—it trains the brain to help you respond differently to various emotions or other triggers of problematic eating habits.

Kitty Broihier, MS, RD, LD, Mindful Eating for ME

If you’re interested in learning more about mindful eating, Kitty is teaching a series of socially-distanced, in-person classes at the South Portland Community Center starting September 8. She says these reasonably-priced, small-group classes will provide a good foundation in mindful eating techniques. Sign up for her Mindful Eating class on the South Portland Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront website.

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.