Manage Your Weight with Mindful Eating
Maintaining a healthy weight isn't easy even though there are countless diets, eating programs, and apps aimed at helping people lose weight. If you've struggled to lose weight despite your best efforts, then you might want to try a different approach: mindful eating.
Mindful eating is a weight-loss strategy that encourages you to slow down, pay attention to what you're eating, and manage your thoughts. Although it might not be the first thing you think of as a weight-management tactic, practicing mindfulness on a regular basis could help you achieve your weight-loss goals.
Mindfulness and Mindful Eating
Mindfulness is a form of meditation in which you pay close attention to what you are sensing and feeling in the moment – without interpretation or judgment. Many individuals use mindfulness to relax, reduce anxiety, or manage stress.
Mindful eating focuses your senses on exploring, savoring, and tasting your food, and teaches you to follow hunger cues.1 It is an effective weight-loss strategy because it encourages you to slow down and pay attention to your food, noticing each sip and bite.2,3 Try the following mindful eating practices as you prepare and eat your food. And it does get easier over time.
- Practice acceptance. Be aware of critical or judgmental thoughts about food, your eating habits, and your body. Let go of those thoughts and instead concentrate on what you are doing in the moment.2
- Make a conscious decision to eat. Before eating, ask yourself, "How hungry am I right now? Am I eating because of hunger, habit, boredom, or emotion?"1
- Avoid distractions. Eat at a table. Turn off the television; put away your cell phone and all reading material. Don’t work while you eat.1
- Appreciate your food. Start your meal by taking a moment to express your gratitude for the food in front of you.2
- Breathe. Before and during your meal, consciously take several deep breaths.2
- Use all your senses. Notice the smells, textures, sounds, colors, and tastes. Ask yourself how much you're enjoying the food and how appealing it is.2
- Enjoy modest portions. Eat slowly and savor each bite. Stop as soon as you feel satisfied.1
Of course, there will be times when you must rush through a meal. Or you could find yourself struggling to sustain the practice of mindful eating. After all, it's not easy to maintain a new habit. But if you incorporate mindful eating on a regular basis, then it can help you reach your weight-loss goals.2,3 If you find yourself eating without being mindful, then pause for a moment, regroup, and start the mindful eating tactics with your next bite.
Use Mindfulness Tactics to Read the Scale without Judgment
For too many people, the bathroom scale measures more than weight – it measures their self-worth. Mindfulness tactics help you learn to weigh yourself without judgment, recognizing that self-recrimination doesn't help you lose weight. In fact, research shows that when you judge yourself harshly, you are more likely to seek comfort – which often comes in the form of high-calorie foods or inactivity.4
Here are three ways to start changing how you feel about what the scale tells you.
- Stop judging. Instead of wavering between loving and hating the scale, think about what it's telling you and how that information can help you. Ask yourself, "What can I learn from this?" This will help you determine what next steps to take in your weight-loss journey. It might even help to write, "What can I learn from this?" on a piece of paper and hang it above the scale.
- Be kind to yourself. You're human. Criticizing yourself, isolating yourself, or letting your worries get the best of you won't help you reach any goal. Such behaviors only show that you're in need of a little self-compassion. When you start to criticize yourself, challenge these thoughts by asking, "Is what I'm telling myself right now 100-percent true? Am I really a bad person because the number on the scale is higher than I expected?"
- Change how you look at the scale. You certainly don't have to love your scale, but you can turn your negative thoughts into positive ones. You might tell yourself, "This number is a marker to help me know if my behavior changes are working for me." Or, "This number measures just a small part of me. It doesn't include my strong passion for my job, my love for my family and friends, nor my talents and strengths." Here's one more: "This scale is only one measurement. It doesn't show changes in my body fat percentage, nor does it show how my clothes are starting to fit differently on my body."
Mindfulness Meditation Helps Overall Wellbeing
Learning to listen to your body and your thoughts while you eat is a helpful tool to manage your weight. Mindfulness can benefit your overall well-being outside the kitchen, too. Mindfulness meditation involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices that relax the body and mind and enable you to engage the present moment.
Meditation has been studied in many clinical trials. The overall evidence supports the effectiveness of meditation for various conditions, including:
- High blood pressure6
Preliminary research even indicates that meditation can help individuals who have asthma or fibromyalgia.6 Meditation can also help you experience thoughts and emotions with greater balance and has been shown to:6
- Improve attention
- Decrease job burnout
- Improve sleep
- Improve diabetes control
It doesn't matter if you want to lose weight, manage stress, or improve your overall wellbeing. Mindfulness can help you achieve your goals. And that is the proverbial win-win.
Related Reading from Thorne
For more tips on healthy weight management, check out Thorne’s Weight Management Program wellness guide.
- Hensrud D. The Mayo Clinic Diet. 2nd ed. Mayo Clinic, 2017.
- Food for thought: Starting your mindful eating journey. The Center for Mindful Eating. http://thecenterformindfuleating.org/food-for-thought. [Accessed October 1, 2020]
- Mason A, Epel E, Aschbacher K, et al. Reduced reward-driven eating accounts for the impact of a mindfulness-based diet and exercise intervention on weight loss: Data from the SHINE randomized controlled trial. Appetite 2016; doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2016.02.009.
- Mantzios M, Wilson J. Exploring mindfulness and mindfulness with self-compassion-centered interventions to assist weight loss: Theoretical considerations and preliminary results of a randomized pilot study. Mindfulness 2015;6:824-835.
- Bystritsky A. Complementary and alternative treatments for anxiety symptoms and disorders: Physical, cognitive, and spiritual interventions. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/complementary-and-alternative-treatments-for-anxiety-symptoms-and-disorders-physical-cognitive-and-spiritual-interventions. [Accessed October 5, 2020]
- AskMayoExpert. Meditation. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2018.
- Khoury B, Sharma M, Rush S, Fournier C. Mindfulness-based stress reduction for healthy individuals: A meta-analysis. J Psychosom Res 2015;78:519.
- Blanck P, Perleth S, Heidenreich T, et al. Effects of mindfulness exercises as stand-alone interventions on symptoms of anxiety and depression: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Behav Res Ther 2018;102:25. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2017.12.002