Mindful Eating (…don’t water it down to “just eat slow without distractions”)
This post was born because I left my prenatal chiropractor appointment last week and was overly hungry. I immediately headed to pick up lunch, but I had to get my food to-go because I had client appointments starting soon. As I drove to my office I was eating a piece of fluffy, round pita bread that came with my meal. I was distracted while eating…obviously because I was focused on driving… and the thought crossed my mind, “well this meal isn’t very mindful.” And then (because I like to be curious about the automatic thoughts my mind has about food), I was like, “wait what?! I’m hungry and I’m eating. How could that not be mindful?”
It reminded me of the importance of not watering down mindful eating to just eating slowly without distraction. When people talk about mindful eating I feel like so many times they minimize it to just slow down when you eat / put your fork down between bites / etc.
Being mindful with food = being aware of something relating to food. The thing you need to be aware of isn’t always eat slowly and eat without distraction.
Being mindful with food means being aware of what you are working on in your relationship with food and making sure you are taking steps to address that. You may not need to be working on eating slow and eating without distraction. Here are some examples of what mindful eating can be (beyond just “eat slow without distraction”)…
1. If you are someone recovering from food rules, restrictive eating, or anorexia, mindful eating for you may not mean distraction-free eating. You likely need distraction filled eating because eating certain foods gives you so much anxiety. Open up Netflix and watch a funny episode of something to help distract you from the anxiety you may feel when you eat something that challenges your food rules, like a toaster waffle smeared with nutella for a snack. Eventually you’ll want to be able to tolerate the anxiety of eating x food without distraction (that’s where your therapist will come in to support you!), but step one is eating the food! So for you, mindful eating = distracted eating.
2. Maybe you are working to make food less of a centerpiece in your life. If food and exercise are your only hobbies, perhaps you being mindful with food means that you eat fast food for dinner because you have an art class to get to (aka a true hobby that isn’t sucking your soul away). So for you, mindful eating = making meals easy so you can focus on life-giving hobbies.
3. For me, a lot of time mindful eating means eating lunch out because I’m far more interested in sleep, seeing clients and getting blog work done than I am in taking the time to prep a lunch to take with me to my office. Of course it isn’t black and white and I still can prep a lunch and sleep and see clients and get blog work done, but some mornings I just want to get on with my day and not take the time to prep a lunch. So here, mindful eating = picking up lunch out so you can be productive at your most productive times.
4. If you are someone whose only way to cope with stress / negative emotions is to eat emotionally, mindful eating for you could be having awareness of emotional hunger versus physical hunger. So for you, mindful eating = tuning into, “is this emotional hunger or physical hunger?” (and then practicing some new coping skills to diversify how you take care of yourself.)
5. If you’re a mom of young kiddos, mindful eating can be eating in 3 minutes flat because you have a screaming toddler and you’re hungry and need food. So for you, mindful eating = eating at lightening speed.
6. Mindful eating can mean eating a large piece of pita bread as you drive because you’re freaking hunger NOW. Mindful eating = listening to hunger cues.
7. Mindful eating can also mean tuning into your fullness cues. A note here though. People can get so hung up on fullness cues by thinking, “I have to eat the exact amount of food to get to the perfect fullness or else I will gain weight and that is the worst thing and I can’t tolerate that and forget it I’ll just restrict because that is easier than tuning in and trying to figure out what the right amount of fullness actually is but holy crap every time I restrict I end up bingeing so restriction isn’t a good plan. AHHH why is eating so complicated?!”
The hunger and fullness scale is a tool to help you better understand how to take care of your body…it’s not a scale to cause you more anxiety and stress. Fullness is a normal sensation you should feel multiple times a day. So for some, mindful eating = tuning into fullness cues, but more importantly…not getting overly stressed if you eat past your fullness cue or get overly stressed as you are learning to tolerate a normal fullness amount. If you are one of those people who is constantly bloated, read this.
No advice is good advice for everyone. But I’m just hear to say that mindful eating tends to get praised and it is often poorly defined as eating slowly and without distractions…so I have a problem with that. If you’re someone who thinks you need to be eating slow and without distraction, that may not be for you. I’m a huge fan of sitting down to a meal surrounded by the ones you love and enjoying a meal without phone / tv distractions. That said, I’m not a fan of eating meals alone without distraction. I’d much rather have a podcast on while I eat and I’m a-ok with that.
Maybe I have a weird perspective on mindful eating. But how people talk about mindful eating rubs me the wrong way. It always just sounded like, “oh here’s another way we are supposed to deprive ourselves around food and we can’t trust our bodies.” It sounds like,”you have to eat slow. You have to put your fork down between bites. You have to eat without distraction.” For me, the term mindful eating (like the term balance) always gives a vibe of a deprivation mindset around food. It gives a sense of having to “be careful” around food, which isn’t helpful for recovery from disordered eating.
A much more helpful way to think about mindful eating is to realize that mindful eating is more than just eating slowly. Mindful eating is being aware of what you are working on in your relationship with food and making sure you are taking steps to address that.
If you don’t know where to start or what you should be focusing on in your relationship with food, working with a dietitian who specializes (or is getting consistent training) in the treatment of eating disorder can help you understand what is the first step to improving your relationship with food (even if you don’t have a full blown eating disorder). These individuals understand non-diet mentality and intuitive eating. The credential you are looking for is CEDRD (Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian). A credential I don’t have yet, but hopefully by next year…after the required test + conference + case studies + completed supervision hours…I will! Woohoo!
Just an FYI. I’ll be accepting new virtual and in-person nutrition counseling clients until September 15th and then I’ll be waiting until after maternity leave to accept anyone new. I’ll only be accepting about 5 new people. If we start working together I want to make sure we have some time to put in good work before baby comes in November, so September 15th will be my cutoff date for anyone interested in working towards a better relationship with food before the holiday season is upon us.