Mindful Eating

Dieting is a way of life for many. Some people spend their adult lives going from one diet to another, always looking for the perfect diet that will finally give them the body they desire or think they should have. Raised in homes with dieting parents, it is not uncommon for entire families to subsist on diet foods while struggling to follow the latest diet craze. With 30 percent of Americans overweight and even more dissatisfied with their weight and body, it is easy to see how many are stuck in a never-ending diet mentality based on restriction and eventual over-indulgence.

Making Peace with Food

By Pamela Cannoy Kelle, R.D., C.D.E.

Media influence does not help. The promise out there says that the latest product will work, and when it doesn’t, we are left to believe it is our own personal weakness and failure. The marketed product is certainly not perceived as the problem. The truth is that most diets have an approximate 95 percent failure rate. When they do fail, the unsuccessful dieter is left with more body dissatisfaction and further weight gain. There is another way.

Mindful eating has been used in other cultures for centuries with consistently dependable positive results. You may have heard it described as “Zen” eating or “intuitive eating,” and both are common focuses for books on the subject. First practiced by those following Buddhist traditions, the modern twist makes it one of the most reasonable ways to eat responsibly in our culture today.

Brigham Young University’s Steven Hawks, Ph. D., published his two-year study on “mindful” eating five years ago, prompted to do this research by his own 50-pound weight loss which used the mindful eating approach. In the popular book, Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole, RD, and Elyse Resch, RD, the authors suggest we must make peace with food and end the struggle of restriction or diets will fail. With common sense advice, the eater is encouraged to stop carrying the emotional baggage tied to food and learn to trust in his or her own ability to eat when hungry and to stop when full. In Ronna Kabatznick’s book The Zen of Eating, great emphasis is placed on understanding the desires, or “the hungry ghost” as the book puts it, which create suffering during the eating process.

When interviewing clients for this article, a consistent double-sided theme appeared, revealing the relationship many have with food as a “love-hate relationship” and a “desperation” before and after mealtime. A malfunction or flaw between extreme hunger and fullness inevitably leads to “uncontrolled” eating and guilt. Without the necessary balance, efforts to make a diet effective become futile, yielding a sense of “personal failure” when they give up the diet. Surprisingly, most are ready to try to follow the next “hot” diet available, even if they know they will most likely fail.

It seems that this futile, fickle quest for diets is a desperate search for redemption. Many people use food in inappropriate ways and do not know an alternative course. Dr Lilan Laishley, a Holistic Counselor, says that often the eating becomes unconscious, the food disappears quickly, and a real awareness of how much was eaten doesn’t exist. She suggests that the practice of true awareness in eating, from beginning to end, can be a meditation in itself.

Simply put, to eat mindfully means to be aware of what you are eating and why. Ask yourself these questions:

• Do you stop and think about what you are actually putting inside your body?

• Do you stop and think about what a particular food may or may not do for your body?

• Are you eating out of need or out of emotion?

• Does what you are eating reflect the way you feel about your life as a whole?

• Does what you eat meet the needs of physical nourishment?

More often, consumption is prompted by extreme hunger, stress, boredom, loneliness, anger, and even self-punishment, without a second thought to the consequences at all.

Bring awareness to the mealtime. Stop and think about the foods you are about to eat. Think for a moment about where the food originates, about the harvesting, production, delivery, and preparation. Think about the hard work someone experienced to get the food to you. Most of us are oblivious to the abundance of food we have and how fortunate we are in this country to have it. Yet, we eat without experiencing the flavors and textures. If we eat food out of a bag while driving down the road or mindlessly eat while sitting in front of the computer or television, the act has become a habit not a choice.

Specific behaviors can change the way you eat, and for many these changes result in weight loss and certainly a better relationship with food. First, say a silent prayer or grace before eating. Then, really look at the food, ask yourself the questions listed earlier, and eat slowly, feeling the food enter your stomach. Third, marvel at the miracle of digestion and absorption of the nutrients as they enter your body. Truly connect with what you are doing to and for your body. Remind yourself that eating can still be a pleasurable and social experience, while at the same time nourishing your body. Try beginning a healthy, enjoyable, and peaceful relationship with food.

Pamela Kelle, R.D., C.D.E., is a nutrition therapist and registered dietician. She is in private practice in Chattanooga. Pam works with individuals and groups with weight-related issues and diabetes. Her office is located in the historic Southern Saddlery Building at 3085 South Broad Street, Suite J, Chattanooga. She can be reached at 423-752-5207 or at foodcoach@comcast.net.