Mindful eating requires slowing down and paying attention to the present moment experience of eating. Rather than mindlessly put food into your mouth and not really taste what you’re eating, you deliberately notice the appearance, smell, texture and taste of the food and pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. Eating mindfully can interrupt habitual eating behaviors and promote greater self-regulation of food choices.1 Warren and colleagues conclude mindful eating has the potential to help address maladaptive eating behaviors and the difficulties many face with controlling food intake.2
Although mindful breathing, body scan and movement are the core skills I teach patients with persistent pain, I introduce mindful eating as another strategy to cultivate present moment awareness. Patients can have surprising shifts in their relationship to food and frequently comment, “If I ate more mindfully, I would enjoy my food more and eat less!”
Lucie Khadduri, PT, DPT, PRPC clinician and Adjunct Professor at the University of Puget Sound School of Physical Therapy, took my course last spring and describes her patient’s experience with mindful eating:
I have been meaning to email for some time to thank you for the April 2017 course on Mindfulness for Rehab Professionals. Your class really impacted my daily PT practice in a positive way. I wanted to share with you one story in particular to illustrate the power that these new tools you have given me have helped others.
I have this male patient who is about 35 years old who struggled with chronic constipation, bloating and anxiety related to his intense fecal urges that were then followed by an inability to defecate. When he started PT, he had just left his job and took a job working from home just so that he could have consistent, stress free bathroom access.
I spoke to him about diaphragmatic breathing and mindfulness and its impact on the autonomic nervous system. What helped him the most, though, was the mindful eating exercise. He has since started applying these concepts to when he eats. He told me on his discharge visit that in the past, he would eat 4 slices of pizza very quickly, without thinking about it and then have horrible pain afterward. Now, he says it is easy to eat 1 slice and have a salad not because he knows salad is better for him, but because his mouth and mind crave different textures and colors in his food. Mindful eating gave him the ability to slow down, focus on the physical sensations of eating and he found that this has changed his relationship with food. As a result, his constipation is much better managed and his anxiety and stress are much better.
Thanks again for an excellent class. I often encourage patients to go to your website for your free 10 minute meditations.
Thank you, Lucie, for sharing this story. It reflects one of the many ways patients benefit from training in mindful awareness. I look forward to introducing colleagues to mindful eating and additional experiential mindful exercises and current research in my upcoming class, Mindfulness-Based Pain Treatment, at Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, Maywood, Il, September 30 and October 1.
1. Miller CK. Mindful eating with diabetes. Diabetes Spectr. 2017 May;30(2):89-94.
2. Warren JM, Smith N, Ashwell M. A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviors: effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutr Res Rev. 2017 Jul 18:1 – 12.
Image courtesy of California Institute of Technology